David Zerbib

The progress of artificial intelligence, with its spectacular applications in a wide range of fields, including the arts, has given rise to discourses that are most often oriented by the idea of a challenge to the specificity and superiority of human intelligence. Computing power, learning capacity, conversational and behavioral imitation, creative potential in the visual arts... After the industrial automation of physical tasks related to production, the automation of intellectual tasks related in particular to creation is on the way to reaching such a level that humanity seems to be pushed into a kind of anthropological test.

Our era is thus that of a great and increasingly complex CAPTCHA, at the end of which we will know if, and how, we will be able to enter the City of a redefined humanity. In the famous Greek myth, the enigma of the Sphinx is the condition for Oedipus to enter Thebes, under the threat of being devoured if he fails. To succeed, he had to call "man" a being described in the riddle as a mutant with, depending on the time, a four-, two- or three-legged body. In other words, under the disturbing gaze of a hybrid being, he had to recognize the human in the physical plasticity and existential precariousness of his condition.

The great CAPTCHA asks us in a different way: how can you still be human, you who come here? In other words, if so many of the traits attached to intelligence, rationality, subjectivity, consciousness, affects, imagination, and even the unconscious or dreams, no longer seem to constitute your essential privilege, how are you going to define the proper nature of your humanity? On the basis of what projections of the body? From what plasticities of identity? From what relationships to non-humans?

We will attempt to answer these questions by moving away from the anthropocentric perspective according to which AI should or could serve us, imitate us or replace us. Instead, we will take this question as an opportunity for a philosophical eccentricity, inspired in particular by the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner (1892-1985). Plessner shows that the essence of the human being lies in his or her relationship with the living body. It is here that a specific spatiality manifests itself, distancing the individual from himself. It is this "eccentric" distancing that makes culture, language and thought possible. So it's not reason, consciousness, the mind or any computational intelligence that define the human in the first place. Eccentricity, inscribed in the body, distinguishes it from - but also brings it closer to - plants and animals on the same vital plane. How does the great CAPTCHA reactivate this organic spatiality? And what role can art play in our response to the new enigma?

Part of Cybercultures
This Think.Zone is held in French. Course credit is given based on attendance and participation.

Selected bibliography:

  • Günther Anders, L’Obsolescence de l’homme. Tome 2 : sur la destruction de la vie à l’époque de la troisième révolution industrielle, trad. Christophe David, Paris, Fario, 2011.
  • James Briddle, Toutes les intelligences du monde. Animaux, plantes, machines, trad. C. Le Roy, Paris, Seuil, 2023.
  • Donna Haraway, Manifeste Cyborg et autres essais, Exils Editeur, Paris 2007 (1984).
  • Gesa Lindemann, « The Brain in the Vat as the Epistemic Object of Neurobiology », Plessner’s Philosophical Anthropology, éd. Jos De Mul, Amsterdam University Press, 2014, p. 335.
  • Trevor Paglen, « The operational image », e-flux journal, n°59, 2014.
  • Helmuth Plessner, Les degrés de l’organique et l’Homme. Introduction à l’anthropologie philosophique, trad. P. Osmo, Paris, Gallimard, 2017 (1927).
  • Avital Ronell, Test drive : La passion de l’épreuve, trad. C. Jaquet, Paris, Stock, 2009.
    Thomas Schlesser, dir., L’image sans l’homme, Presses du réel, coll. « Les carnets du Bal », n°9, 2021.
  • Alan Turing, « Computing machinery and intelligence », Mind, Oxford University Press, vol. 59, n° 236,‎ oct. 1950.
  • Alan Turing, Jean-Yves Girard, La machine de Turing, Seuil, « Point Sciences », 1999.
  • Sylvie Boisseau, Frank Westermeyer et David Zerbib, Jouer à être humain. Entre IA, vie animale et végétale : une expérimentation artistique et philosophique, Berlin, Genève, Naima / HEAD, 2021. English edition : Playing at being human. Between AI, animal and plant life: an artistic and philosophical experiment.