The Center for the Study of Digital Life (CSDL) is a not-for-profit strategic research group dedicated to understanding the effects of digital technologies on civilizations -- both East and West. Our goal is to improve decision-making worldwide, in the interest of avoiding confrontations, by assisting people to take responsibility for their actions under conditions of a digital environment which shapes our behaviors and attitudes.
Life under digital conditions is new for humanity. Never before have we had to organize ourselves for a world in which software-based robotic-machines increasingly take on laborious tasks, permitting unprecedented access to both eventual abundance and leisure. Previously, scarcity and toil dominated our lives and dictated our social organization. As a result, we are now responsible for a fundamental rethinking of the “human use of human beings.”
We now need to understand how to share our planet with the vast array of autonomous "things" we have invented. These new digital inventions are architected from elaborate structures of memory -- which is where the software and its data "lives." Indeed, humans were also created as elaborate combinations of memory -- personal, social and civilizational. This structural similarity forces humanity to reconsider what it is that makes humans and their memories unique in the known universe. This new understanding brings with it considerable responsibilities to remember human history and its lessons for us today.
Replacing the initial confusion sown by the study of Artificial Intelligence, we have come to understand how these "robots" are not like us at all. Robots have no morals. Robots live forever. Robot "anthropology" is clearly the study of an alien existence. How the humans interact with these aliens -- recognizing that humanity has been itself transformed by this encounter -- makes what was once our science fiction now our reality.
All humans will not interact with the software-robots in the same way, however. Humanity has organized itself into different civilizations and these civilizations have different memories. Crucially, the ways that the East and the West have dealt with their inventions -- always in the context of their own civilizations -- has been radically different. While the West has submitted itself to what Pope Francis calls the "technocratic paradigm" (under which technological imperatives largely "rule" society), the East has taken a very different approach. Understanding these differences will be quite important for how humanity takes responsibility for its future digital life.
As a result of these developments, we now live in a world in which global affairs are driven by three distinct civilizations: East, West and Digital. While it is not necessary that these civilizations clash with each other, earlier forms of thinking, such as the late-20th century notion of "globalism" which tries to erase these distinctions, can point us towards dangerous confrontations. Among our greatest responsibilities today will be to avoid that outcome. We believe that understanding how digital technologies shape ourselves and our world is essential for fulfilling these responsibilities and ensuring our survival.
The CSDL is privately funded and does not take an advocacy role. It supports scholarship across the full-range of disciplines, including the social sciences, biology/ecology and systems engineering. It provides research studies to the public and holds conferences while also advising corporations, NGOs and governments. Its scope is international, with a particular interest in China and other rapidly industrializing economies. The CSDL will be a unique contributor to the strategic understanding of our digital future.