Ad Verbrugge

Philosopher and founder of De Nieuwe Wereld

The Human Factor

When it comes to sustainable digitisation, the main question is to what extent the use of digital technology is always desirable and, if it is, in what sense. At present, its unbridled expansion is an almost automatic and natural process, in which we are constantly inclined to adapt the nature of our own activities to the functionality that the digital environment demands of us. The system tells us what to do. Our attention at the outset was too narrowly focused on ‘digital functionality’, so scant attention is paid to the possible loss of quality and significance of our own actions as a result of implementing functional systems in our daily lives.

AI systems, for example, could in many cases arrive at a perfect ‘judgement’ on a matter of criminal law, but that does not mean they could also replace the human, symbolic and ritual significance of the act of ‘administering justice’. A human being can put himself in another’s shoes, feel a degree of sympathy, stand up for something close to his heart, embody a community or tradition etc., but these are not functions that can be taken over by a machine. It is precisely that human factor that plays a vital role in numerous areas of life and society: education, healthcare, security, entertainment etc.

If we want to stop digitisation driving the humanity and meaning out of life, we must start by expanding our outlook and enriching our language to see what part of life is involved and to identify what is meaningful and valuable. Only then will it be possible to determine what can be sustainably digitised and what cannot.

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