Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger, Gutenberg Research College


From left: Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger, Peter Kogler (artist) and Sabine Adler (ERES-Stiftung)

Digital Transformation and Philosophy: Presentation by Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger at ERES-Stiftung Munich

Every sector seems now to be involved in digital change somehow – industry, media, education, policy. Yet, the world today seems to be torn between anxiety on the one hand and with positive excitement on the other. Some see only dangers and some see mostly opportunities. Some speak about the fourth industrial revolution, which will have an enormous impact on the digital, the physical and biological worlds. Some even fear it will finally be the beginning of the end of the world. Yet, when anxiety leads to fear, it might end with paralysis. But this is not a very useful reaction, because the digital transformation will not stop. But in order to be able to focus on the fundamental challenges ahead, we need to try to change anxiety into alertness and attention. The good news is that we have already the technology and tools in place to connect globally with ease, we can exchange knowledge instantly and we can have relevant information at our fingertips. This is a very powerful thing. But I believe the current amount of disruptive innovations raise many questions. We all know the discussions about self-driving cars and artificial intelligence.

People are looking for guidance in this very complex and fragmented world, particularly in time of the digital transformation. It seems people are showing signs of increased interest in profound reflection and critical thinking again, as the discipline of philosophy has provided for many centuries. For instance, I was at a presentation by Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger at Eres-Stiftung Munich, one of the leading leading philosophers in theoretical philosophy and an important figure in the philosophical discussions of consciousness, who works together with neuroscientists to unravel the fundamental elements of being human and the effect of technology on our consciousness. The surprise was, that the event not only was fully booked, but there was even a huge crowd standing in the rain trying to get in, similar to what you expect from a concert of a popular musician.

Personally, I have been very interested in philosophical topics such as being human, consciousness and authenticity for many decades and I studied sociology and philosophy before I studied communication design. Understanding people thoroughly has always struck me as a fundamental means to be able to create successful communication. I would like to believe, that this apparent revived focus on philosophy, particularly in the realm of digital transformation, is a very positive sign. Young philosophers today are beginning to focus more on current issues, from values to ethics, and they find their listeners. This engagement in critical discussions provide the necessary basis for the alertness and focus needed to understand thoroughly what digital transformation actually means and to be able to evaluate the meaningfulness of innovations for every individual and to our society as a global community.

As a design professor I have a mission – I strongly believe that design is a powerful discipline that can help to change the current prevalent focus on empowering technology to empowering people through technology. Design uses its human-centred research approach to explore what is not only useful but also meaningful to us. And the industry has begun to understand that there is a huge potential for innovation. Innovative products, services and systems today need more than the promise to increase efficiency and to advance measurability, they need to enable consumers and users to become powerful participants.

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Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger

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