Young woman feeling shocked and looking with confusion on digital tablet screen while browsing online at home. Photo: iStock
Young woman feeling shocked and looking with confusion on digital tablet screen while browsing online at home. Photo: iStock

The world is addicted to getting smart. Wanna be smart yourself? Surely, who doesn’t? Smart is the new cool. Becoming a “knowledge society” was unavoidable.

We have all kinds of “smart things” – smart watches, smart cars, smart cards, smartphones – not forgetting the tech-savvy crowd fueled by those in love with technology striving to make our “intelligent” technology “uber”-intelligent. Meanwhile we are consoled with iMacs, iPhones, iPods, iPads – an “i” used to adorn many product lines – let alone the next big thing: the “Internet of Things.” With IoT, so-called intelligent things, connected to networks of interactive and responsive objects communicating with one another, “help” individuals whose lives are rife with “intelligent objects.”

Unlike geeks delighted by these developments, the problem I see here is symbolism, the societal trend, the greater picture we are in, fueled by corporations delivering the following subtext with their “smart” products: We’re smart, and if you’re smart too, you better buy our products, invest in us, give yourself in to us, since if you decide to opt out, not to buy us and our corporation’s “philosophy,” you’re nothing but stupid, because it is stupid not to buy these products declared “smart.”

Apropos, the term “philosophy” is corrupted by many corporations disguising their marketing strategies with that term to make the most money at the expense of you. As you might know, “philosophy” is a positively connoted term many people associate with “intelligence.” Another trick of the marketing department is not be perceived as mean and reckless but intelligent and wise.

But is it really intelligent to have all these smart products? While you might adore these shiny objects, these “intelligent things” are installed as agents of their manufacturers craving your data and exchanging them inter-connectedly, corporations that produce these objects getting evermore information about you and your behavior and therefore the ability to control you increasingly.

So the world gets incrementally smarter. But is it really so? I would not call this technology intelligent, as these so-called intelligent or smart things are stupid enough, but I would call them “stupidly cunning,” along with their manufacturers, who are in their mechanistic approach systematically merciless.

According to China-based Kai-Fu Lee’s new book AI Superpowers outlining China’s leading role in the new world order with its “AI Silicon Valley,” we are pivoting from “Phase 3,” a development expedited globally wherein artificial intelligence provided with eyes and ears in a variety of things collected data excessively in everyday situations. Next is “Phase 4,” wherein AI working in autonomous systems, in self-deciding and self-driving systems, decides who can pass, who is allowed to survive, whether in traffic or in giving loans, for instance. And China, “the world’s workbench,” is ahead of the pack regarding these “advancements.”

Philosophically speaking regarding introducing and experimenting with these kinds of “intelligent” systems: What other world region fits better as a testing ground than Asia, and especially China, which despite being overly restrictive is not restrained with Western ethics, shielding itself from Western influence and protecting its genuine culture? It seems that Asian cultures preserved their idiosyncrasies the most against invasive Western values during colonialism, and still do.

The world is getting increasingly interconnected. However, this development seems reserved for the affluent who hand themselves over – via their data – to corporations that then have a hold on them. So if you are poor, when assembling these “intelligent things,” these products’ corporations have another interest in you: not to exploit your personal data as a customer – because if you are poor arguably you are not a customer – but to exploit you personally.

But back to “smart.”

I observe a global trend to become smart as an expression of a social-Darwinistic model, a trend not only pointing to China but followed upon in recent decades, since the Chicago Boys and Austrian-British economist Friedrich August von Hayek, arguably neoliberalism’s most influential proponent, was awarded the Nobel Prize for his neoliberal model in 1974, after the neoliberal economic model had been considered already dead.

The history of science reveals that what happened here is widely known as the Nobel Prize effect: The thoughts of whoever is awarded the Nobel Prize receive positive attention, which otherwise would have fallen into oblivion.

Neoliberalism had its breakthrough via the Nobel Prize effect, pushing the world to become evermore smart, greedy, reckless, selfish, antisocial, egoistic – in short, a model applying Darwinism on society, a social-Darwinistic model striving to create a reckless, antisocial society, a society reducing itself to absurdity, falling apart the more it relies on animal law, the basis of neoliberalism making the people of the world believe the markets were regulating them and civility would be preserved over it.

History shows that when societies begin cannibalizing themselves it’s hard to consider them smart. What’s intelligent and beyond is to think sustainably, implying that cultivating ourselves collectively requires effort from every one of us taking responsibility for one another.

Contrary to globalist-neoliberal thought, a civilized society definitely is not emerging as a side effect of societal habits propagated by neoliberalism, pushing people to excel and take advantage of others, act out the law of the strongest, the survival of the fittest, as if a civilized society were warranted, when social-Darwinist neoliberals – while privatizing profits and socializing losses – rip society apart.

So are we really smart? Apparently, the more we strive to get smart, the more we lose ourselves, our feeling for ourselves and for each other, and humanity is lost on the way. It’s a question of who is smarter: Those thinking sustainably, acting respectfully of each other, working on mankind’s bright future on a healthy planet blue, or those cannibalizing society, working on a “global overdose” of a robbers’ economy, on self-extinction in high speed, in the fast lane to amass riches while falling short of being far-seeing – actualizing German playwright Friedrich Schiller’s first drama (1781) Die Räuber (“The Robbers”)?

Beyond “smart,” “intelligent,” “mean,” “cunning,” there is “meaning” and “empathy” making us human. It’s not about “smart” but about being “philosophically wise,” with which those obsessed by “smart” have always had problems.

Immanuel Fruhmann

Dr. Dr. phil. Immanuel Fruhmann is an Austrian philosopher and educationist specialized in philosophy of science and language, cultural and social philosophy, as well as adult education, with years of experience in analysis of geopolitics and giving philosophical and educational insights to the public. He is psychotherapist in training and works as coach and consultant as well as writer. Fruhmann is a Knight of the Order of St George, a European Order of the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lorraine,...