Philosophy and Intelligence - risks of digital totalitarianism

September 6, 2024 - September 8, 2024
Appleid Philosophy and Social Research Center


This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

This event is available both online and in-person


University of Belgrade

Talks at this conference

Add a talk


Philosophy and intelligence - the risk of digital totalitarianism

Explanation of the topic

In the broad problematic and even phenomenal field of consideration of intelligence, philosophy seems to have remained on the margins of engagement of social sciences. Dealing with questions of intelligence or rationality seems to imply that the question of intelligence falls under those categories of thought. However, intelligence has several meanings that are philosophically interesting. From the characteristic of a human being that essentially determines it in the generic term and thus in terms of the ability to self-determine in the world of life, through the meaning of the special role of "intellectuals" in the public life of human society, to the meaning that we are emphatically interested in today's world - the ability to come to know different types and their uses. Towards an increasing possibility of forming capacities for the operationalization of knowledge in all spheres of human life. The culmination is the creation of an operational "parallel" intelligence that replaces the originally human one, the one in which the human being is engaged as an integral being that can lose control over the artificial intelligence, at least in some aspect. That is already enough for philosophical concern and reflection on the risk of unwanted end results - some forms of digital totalitarianism.

Sophisticated technologies and the possibility of creation of digital totalitarianism

It is common knowledge that a broad consensus has been established in the world of theory that the modern age gave birth to, among other things, two forms of totalitarianism. i.e. systems that were characterized by attempts to establish rigid control over all spheres of social life from a single point (the political center). No matter how different those regimes were in terms of their nature and proclaimed goals, both were one-dimensional in the ideological sense, and to that extent ideologically anti-pluralistic. In the first case, it was about a system that was based on different variants of communist ideology; in the second about a system whose weft was racist ideology; but both made use of the illegal use of brutal violence for the purpose of their own reproduction. Leaving aside the analysis of the influence of external factors on their downfall, both had their internal limit - they were against human nature; the obstacles that stood in the way of perpetuating their fundamental ideals were immanent obstacles to them, to those ideals. After the collapse of first national-socialism and then, much later, communism, which lost the battle with liberalism (the third orientation that arose in the modern age) or, as it is metaphorically said, after the "fall of the Berlin Wall", concepts about the "end of history" began to revive. First, Fukuyama's now famous thesis appeared, that the world moved irreversibly towards the absolute dominance of parliamentary democracies: of course, Fukuyama did not mean the stagnation of historical processes by the end of history; on the contrary, these processes will accelerate, but they will take place under one and the same assumptions - under the conditions of the rule of liberal democracy. When further developments began to convincingly deny Fukuyama's thesis, Robert Kaplan's far more pessimistic view followed that a state of anarchy - a state of lawlessness and uncontrolled violence - will inevitably mark the end of history. In his book The Coming Anarchy, Kaplan believed that the indicated state that will soon engulf the entire world can best be illustrated by the example of West Africa: “West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real "strategic" danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels … " (Kaplan, 2000: 7). The essence of that point of view is reflected in the claim that the central government will become increasingly powerless to prevent the disintegration of society into irreconcilably opposed armed groups-gangs. This gloomy picture is supported by the latest sci-fi dystopias that deal with forecasts of the future state of the world. Although those forecasts usually contain a moment of catastrophic exaggeration, historical experience so far shows us that there is not a small part of accurate prediction in them. In these dystopias, some authors see America in the future as a country divided into urban neighborhoods that are reduced to narrow identities. According to their vision, it requires passports and visas to travel from one quarter to another. The CIA was privatized while the aircraft carrier Enterprise became a floating house for refugees... The authority of the federal government has declined to the extent that it includes only the land on which the buildings of the federal government are located. And finally, the point of view of many contemporary thinkers and scientists comes to the fore, alluding that in the context of the development of highly sophisticated technology, above all artificial intelligence, the world is irresistibly moving towards the establishment of digital totalitarianisms aimed at eavesdropping and monitoring the behavior of citizens. At the same time, these authors believe that this aspect of technological development can threaten the rights to privacy and individual freedom of citizens not only in the despotically regulated Leviathan, but also in the previous liberal democracies. For example, Yuval Noah Harari in his text Why technology favors tyranny claims that the development of artificial intelligence is the harbinger of the growth of the number of digital dictatorships in which the authorities will be able to monitor, control, even dictate the way people will influence each other, communicate and think. As if the realization of such predictions would fully realize Orwell's dystopia 1984, which foresaw a Big Brother controlling individuals by means of tele-screens, (instruments that include televisions, security cameras, microphones and the like). These last theses open many questions: - To what extent are the predictions that the development of artificial intelligence and related robotization will lead to the dominance of digital totalitarianisms in the world? - Would the eventual realization of the indicated forecasts mean only the improvement of classical totalitarianism thanks to the discovery of far more sophisticated technological means for its perpetuation, which would entail not only forcing individuals to behave subserviently by external repressive mechanisms, but also unconsciously internalizing such a spirit by themselves, forgetting their previous individual autonomy? Or would eventual digital totalitarianism mean the creation of a significantly different type of totalitarianism than the previous one? - Does the development of artificial intelligence have its internal limit - say Asemoglu and Robinson in their book The Narrow Corridor point out: "You can provide a huge amount of resources (and data for the application of artificial intelligence), you can order people how to behave, but you cannot order them to be creative. Creativity is an essential element of innovation and it depends significantly on the number of people participating in that process, as it was the case in the era of the industrial revolution... You can invest in innovation and offer great rewards for success, but it is not enough if you do not create the conditions for the noisy, licentious, unruly nature of experimentation”? - According to many theoreticians, freedom depends on the mobility of society and its ability to defend its interests against the state. From that perspective, perhaps the main question is whether the processes of developing sophisticated technology can be put under the control of the general public and representative institutions? - Seen from the same perspective, the question is which system represents a more fertile ground for the development of digital totalitarianism - the liberal-democratic one or the autocratic one? Enumerating these questions does not exhaust their list related to this year's theme of our conference, which our guests will certainly consider from different angles. Mail-adress for sending abstract: [email protected]

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




Today, 11:45pm CET

Who is attending?

1 person is attending:


See all

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.

RSVPing on PhilEvents is not sufficient to register for this event.