Transforming Humanities… The Emergent Society 4.0 and 5.0

Published on 1st August 2023

While the rest of us are arguing for transforming and decolonising the curriculum, some are pushing for transforming the humans and the associated humanities, such that teaching and learning becomes inclusive of non-humans or other-than-humans. Already, we are witnessing the production of sentient and sapient other-than-human beings, including robots, which are being touted as capable of learning and teaching. In other words, for some, decolonisation is not about advancing the interests of (African) humans but it is about advancing the interests of non-humans or other-than-humans which are depicted as having suffered human exceptionalism for long.

The point is that, the emergent Society 4.0 and 5.0 promise to decentre humans while shifting attention away from human interests. One question to ask is: What will colleges and universities in Africa do when other-than-human sentient and sapient beings that are being artificially produced begin to demand inclusivity in teaching and learning? While some of us are arguing for transforming and decolonising colonial epistemologies, others are pushing for decolonising humans and the humanities, assuming, as they do, that humans are colonising nature in the same way colonialists historically colonised Africans.

The point that I am making here is that humans and humanities are being transformed such that colleges and universities in the world risk being left with no humans to teach when humans become posthumans, transhumans or biology-technology hybrids in the sense of them having become cyborgs or cybernetic organisms, in Donna Haraway’s sense, wirelessly connected to everything in the emergent Internet of Everything.

Put differently, the key question African institutions should start asking is: What is becoming of humanities education in a world where humans are microchipped and connected to the clouds such that they begin to directly and instantly upload files into their minds. A number of reports have been made about these issues: The merger of human biological bodies and technology is addressed in Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book ‘The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology’. Similarly, in ‘The World Economic Forum March 3 2016’, Myers J. has an article titled ‘Have we just discovered how to upload knowledge to our brains?’ Besides, The Telegraph March 1 2016 has an article titled ‘Scientists discover how to upload knowledge to your brain’. Also, The Express of March 24 2016 has an article titled ‘Education of the future? Scientists figure out how to upload knowledge to the brain’. The BBC News of March 14 2016 has an article titled ‘The immortalist uploading the mind to a computer’. In addition, the MIT Review of March 13 2018 carries the article: ‘A startup is pitching a mind uploading service that is ‘100 percent fatal’’. And David J. Chalmers 2014 has a chapter titled: ‘Mind uploading’ which appears in a book edited by D. Broderick and R. Blackford ‘Intelligence Unbound: The Future of Uploaded and Machine Minds’.

With human enhancements and human augmentations that are already proliferating, humans are increasingly and strongly tempted to enhance and augment their minds, not by attending universities and colleges but by getting wirelessly, instantly and directly connected to the Internet of Things, including to the cloud for direct uploads of files into their brains (in Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 sense of a singularity). After all, we are told that we are getting into an acceleration society which is, in fact, an information society requiring humans to process information with lighting speed that is not possible to achieve by attending four, five, eight or 10 years of university education.

The point here is that the acceleration society wherein the world enters rapid transformations makes it imperative to transform humans so that their minds get enhanced or augmented to be able to rapidly process information with the speed and immensity of computers. But the million-dollar question is: Will universities survive with their four-year, five-year or eight-year degree programmes which risk being overtaken at every turn by the rapidity of world transformations and accelerated information flows that can no longer be mastered by minds that are not technologically enhanced or augmented?

What I am hinting at here is that, universities risk being abandoned when society prefers technological mind enhancements or augmentations which are being touted by some thinkers as more germane to the emergent acceleration society wherein the slowness of the biological human minds has to be overcome. If humanities have been taught in conventional colleges and universities, we are now witnessing the emergence of new fields – call them ‘humusities’ in Donna Haraway’s sense of humans becoming composts, or call them posthumanities and transhumanities – which are set to decentre not only the conventional humans but also the conventional colleges and universities as we know them.

Universities need to be proactive in relation to an emergent world where humans are becoming assemblages or composts of biology and sentient technologies that are implanted or inserted into brains as part of human technological enhancements or augmentations. Put in other words, the universities of the future will very soon no longer be teaching humanities but they will be dealing with humusities, assemblages, posthumanities and transhumanities as the successors of the traditional humanities. Universities have to continually transform themselves to remain relevant and to continue to forge ahead and be the universities of the future.

A key question that needs to be proactively addressed during this 21st Century is: How would universities deal with mind enhancement or mind augmentation technologies in relation to teaching and learning? Another key question which universities will have to deal with proactively is how it will address the embodiment of microchips and nanorobots, and the connections of human minds to the clouds for direct and instant uploads of information or knowledge. What will become of university examinations when everything, including the human minds, become open access because they are wirelessly connected to the Internet of Everything – and because human minds begin to circulate as digital material in cyberspace? Put differently, the question is how such transformations would impact universities in terms of teaching and learning – and indeed their existence and exigencies as universities. To be asked also is the question about how such transformations would impact universities’ curriculum transformations, including decolonisation of the curriculum.

What I am saying here is that when information and knowledge get to the point where they are directly and instantly uploaded from the cloud to the microchipped and wirelessly connected human minds, there are implications for current debates on decolonising the curriculum, decolonising knowledge, decolonising epistemologies and decolonising universities. The issue is also about how universities would regulate and control the curricula in a world where human minds are wirelessly connected to the Internet of Everything and to the cloud for instant and direct uploads of information and knowledge?

The point I am making here, again, is that universities on the continent of Africa and beyond have to continue to strategically position themselves in relation to the sweeping changes that are already taking place in the world. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Fifth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0 are not only ushering changes to industries and economies but they are also ushering in concomitant transformations of society which are being described as Society 4.0 and Society 5.0.In Society 4.0 and Society 5.0, it is not only computers that are networked via the internet but humans will increasingly be connected and networked in the Internet of Everything as the new technologies begin to get embodied and embedded in the human bodies, enabling the wireless connections of humans to other things, including to the cloud.

In such a world of Society 4.0 and Society 5.0, universities will have to abate mega construction projects – students will no longer need to be confined to the walls. And examinations will no longer be prized as humans will have become cybernetic organisms connected to the cloud for direct and instant uploading of files of information and knowledge. Put differently, why would universities continue to force students, whose minds are wirelessly and directly connected to the cloud and to the Internet of Everything, to sit in an examination room to answer questions? In such a context, examinations become otiose. And the anthropos in the very humanistic disciplines, such as anthropology, will have leaped into the postanthropos in the sense of having become postanthropocentric.

The point here is that when the postanthropos replace the very humanistic disciplines, in Society 4.0 and 5.0, even the non-humans will also deserve consideration in the new forms of education through direct and instant infusions of facts, information and knowledge. Inclusive education becomes inclusive in the more-than-human sense of including non-humans. We are already being told that non-human robots are learning; we are told that even non-human animals learn. And we are told that when human and non-human minds are connected to the cloud for direct and instant uploads of files, both humans and non-humans will learn at the same level in an inclusive sense.

In the light of the emergence of wirelessly connected minds and direct instant uploads of files from the cloud, there is evidence that we are entering into a world in which society is being deschooled in terms of Ivan Illich’s 1971 thesis on deschooling society. In his book on deschooling society, Illich lamented that the school teaches the students to focus on results, such that grade achievement is confused with education, teaching is confused with learning, a diploma is confused with competence while fluency is confused with the ability to say something new. And so, he (Illich) argues for technology that decentralises the school, in our case the university, and creates some kind of techno-networks of egalitarianism. So, the questions are whether, and how, universities are preparing for such a world that is being ushered in via Society 4.0 and 5.0 — and are we all ready for such a deschooled and, by extension, what I call a deuniversitised world — in the sense of a world that has decentred universities to the point of enhancing or augmenting the minds for direct uploads of files from the cloud?

Decolonial scholars may ask further questions such as whether by advocating decolonising the university they are referring to such deuniversitisation of the world. Put in other words, the transformations in Society 4.0 and 5.0 are not only decommissioning humans, who are being transformed into posthumans and transhumans, but they are also decommissioning universities which are being deuniversitised through techno-networks of egalitarianism in Illich’s sense of a deschooled society. But, would deschooling of society amount to decolonisation of society, and, a fortiori, in our case, would a deuniversitised society amount to a decolonised society? 

By Prof Artwell Nhemachena

Artwell Nhemachena holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town. He has lectured at a number of universities in Zimbabwe.

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