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Is ChatGPT an “anthropological revolution”?

Ever since the “Cat” version of artificial intelligence (AI) GPT, capable of mimicking human intellectual output, was brought online, the excitement around these technologies has brought the concept of an “anthropological revolution” back into discussions.

However, what we notice, unlike ChatGPT, is that each new advance in so-called “hack” technologies is actually part of this paradoxical technology.And She is seduced by technological skepticism, which oscillates between wonder and excitement in the face of rapid and impressive advances in computing and cybernetics.

Ever since Deep Blue, the supercomputer,’s victory over a human at chess, the tone has been set: a “turning point in human history” is taking place.

many computing devices

The latest mathematical and technological prowess has rapidly accelerated what is referred to as “artificial intelligence,” a designation put forth by specialists such as Luke Julia or Jean Louis Dessales Dispute because this “intelligence” is actually available in many IT devices.

Thus, there is a mixture of decision-making algorithms, in particular legal (CaseLaw analytics), facial recognition such as FaceNet, algorithm-generated music with Jukedeck, text-generated images with Dall E 2, mobile conversation agents (Siri), and smart home automations that inform us of the contents of the refrigerator, humanoid robots capable of initiating and conducting a conversation … we think of the now famous Sofia, who saunters from tv set in conferences, or in Ameca, whose movements and expressions continually show the limits of man.

Ameca, the humanoid robot, is designed as a platform for artificial intelligence and human-robot interaction (HRI). © Engineering Engineering

wild imagination

The proliferation of technologies and their mass injection into contemporary societies is certainly remarkable, and gives the impression of an irrepressible wave of technology and digitization of human environments.

This trend feeds a wild imagination that necessarily sees itself as a break with the past, hence the fashion for the “revolution” with posthumanist accents. Thus, we are at the “dawn” of a “new” humanity stuck in a new technological “age”. A story that forgets the many failures of said technologies, moreover.

Is the “artificial intelligence” or “digital” revolution a Anthropological revolution ? It is curious that businessmen like Gilles Babnett, successful historians like Yuval Noah Harari, and philosophers like Frederick Worms have appropriated this expression (in more or less precise terms).

The first to firmly assert that this is indeed the case.

The second with his book Homo deityto embed this revolution in a long-term paradigm of human history at the risk of an oversimplification that blurs the paths between retrospective reading of history and future fiction.

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Thirdly, finally, on a much larger scale, to underscore at least the importance of asking about the depth of the transformations underway.

Regrettably, anthropologists have unfortunately not mobilized much in a discussion primarily concerned with the discipline whose name is put into all sauces, with few exceptions. Emmanuelle Grimaud directly addresses the fundamental question of the nature of artificial intelligence compared to the traits of humanity that are increasingly being questioned as to what makes them unique.

Pascal Pic, captured in a Very different kind, since the paleoanthropologist does not hesitate to go beyond the strict framework of anthropogenesis (human evolution). It carves the digital revolution into a long time in human evolution, and invites us, against any intellectual reductionism, to consider the complexity of forms of animal intelligence and artificial intelligence.

Questioning the idea of ​​rupture

Anthropologists, who, by intellectual discipline, are accustomed to the long term and more inclined to look at continuity than at (often hastily announced) rupture in the order of societies and cultural changes, have every reason to be wary.

First, because not every technological change entails a major cultural change. Next Claude Levi-Strauss in particular Ethnicity and history (1955), the term should perhaps be reserved for a phenomenon that is likely to profoundly (structurally) alter the system of thought and social organization.

This was the case with the domestication of fire and animal species, and Neolithic domestication and agriculture, which were not all inventions (from nothing) but often innovations in the anthropological sense of the term: an improvement on technology already developed by humans. In this sense, artificial intelligence and many digital technologies deserve the term innovation more than inventions.

In this sense, the philosopher Michel Serres sparked a “third revolution” to qualify the emergence of the digital world, after writing and printing. Hence, he echoes Jack Goody, who explains that the graphical mind has transformed oral reasoning and shaped human thought and communication for thousands of years. In other words, this will not be the only time, quite the opposite, that humanity finds itself facing a reset of its ways of thinking after a change in its technologies.

What revolution?

Revolution, so that Homo numericus As is emphasized here or there by the strength of the conviction that the present explains everything?

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If we follow the historian Adrienne Mayor, the civilizations of antiquity have already imagined and begun to implement technologies that are currently at the front of the stage, in an embryonic way of artificial intelligence or more accomplished of robots. Ha God and robots Neck-wraps are partial and one-sided readings of unilateral history and recent history.

Thus tell the stories of Talos, the “first robot”, then Medea’s cauldron of immortality, humans’ borrowings from animals and gods to increase their power, the first “living” statues of Daedalus and Pygmalion, the creation of more human than human by Prometheus, the robot of Hephaestus, the first virtual reality embodied by Pandora … For Mayor, the digital revolution will be anything but Newsreading in current legacy technologies.

More reinvention than revolution, and thus, and effects less profound than they seem: machines have been there, from the beginning, in the imagination of humans who grope (quite literally) to embody them.

Admittedly, the technologies are far from identical – between Greek automata and Boston Dynamics’ active machines the difference is just as significant and any technology can first be evaluated in context – but they are already invested in humanity’s hopes to be aided or even supplemented in its physical tasks ( for robots) and intellectual (for artificial intelligence).

Atlas takes over. © Boston Dynamics

How do humans absorb technology?

Furthermore, is the revolution anthropological or technological? The lesson of anthropology is to look at how humans develop technologies and how they are absorbed by social and cultural systems.

There is no doubt that the “digital” or “digital” revolution generates transformations in technologies, without being mechanically translated by changes in human behavior patterns. New uses emerge, but behavioral patterns can influence, rather than be influenced by, technologies.

According to leading experts in artificial intelligence and digital technology, it is a matter of considering the uniqueness of each technology and its implications: where the social response of chat agents seems positive and rather immediate (chatbots are easily adopted), facial recognition systems bestow circumvention by counter computer systems.

According to Picq, we should undoubtedly reserve a special destiny for smartphones, in the sense that they combine the physical importance of a laptop with the technological prowess of artificial intelligence. This concentrated station of technology that has however changed communication patterns, accompanying or bringing about changes in human mobility, relationship to knowledge, etc. That Pascal Picque wants the real goal of the current “revolution” to be transformative in the sense that it becomes more of a laptop than a phone…

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Humanity has fun and scares each other

In short, since fire, weapons, and magic were probably the first technology to transform human reality, then the first virtual reality in history? Even artificial intelligence and robots, humanity has fun and scares itself with its technological creations, whether useful or playful.

She sometimes delights in constructing them as creatures (without necessarily being anthropomorphic) like the mythical thought that depicts them. It is not surprising in this context that some cheat with ChatGPT for example.

Indeed, man is a being who is aware of fun, i.e. loves the game as emphasized by the philosopher Johan Huizinga but also in Luddism, a form of fear provoked by technologies (referring to social conflict in the nineteenth century)H century in which manufacturers were pitted against artisans, Luddists who denounced the use of machinery).

The sedition of the fetish

However, there is still a great temptation to succumb to the intellectual fetishization of the term “revolution”. In most cases, a revolution is a cultural or socio-technological change that is observed through its hypotheses and predictions of impacts that have not yet been observed.

However, the revolution (except undoubtedly when it is forced upon Policy) on the basis of elements retrospectively rather than based on induction, and it is fairly stable in the field of science and technology, but it is not reliable in the humanities.

However, if we consider current developments in AI, no longer just from the point of view of a linear technological scale, such as Moore’s Law, but in terms of cultural assimilation and social adoption of technologies, then there is no doubt that we should then speak (with one voice) to scientists Computer)development instead of revolution anthropologist.

But at the cost of a major intellectual reversal: the shift from technology-centric thought (which holds that technology is what transforms society) to a sociological thought of technologies (the opposite perspective, for that matter). Then a little “revolution”…?