How the Media Is Changing (Part 3 of 3)

Gutenberg invented the printing press more than 500 years ago. Then came photography, the telephone, film and the phonograph in the 19th century, later television and the World Wide Web. A vast interval of time spanning over 500 years -- leading to the media reality as we know it today.

The publisher Hubert Burda recognized the potential of the digital revolution early on. For the last few decades he has occupied himself with understanding this topic.

This shows in his latest book "Diary on the Digital Revolution," which is a compilation of personal notes, presentations, conferences and encounters from the last 25 years.

The following chapter is written by Hubert Burda's son Jacob Burda.


The Infosphere

At the end of this book, we find ourselves facing questions and problems that are so radically new, it is difficult to draw comparisons to past eras and look forward into the future. For the first time in history, we are experiencing humans being completely excluded from the technological value chain. Technologies that exist between man and nature in a simple form and those that enable the interaction with other technologies are becoming significantly more complex and create their own information systems.

A new global reality is emerging in which people communicate with each other and with the technologies (whether these are smartphones, laptops or wearable devices) and in which technologies are also increasingly able to share information with each other in real time. This means they are excluding human beings from their own communication cycle. One example is the Internet of Things, in which technologies like sensors and thermostats communicate with each other with the help of protocols. These become new interfaces to combat and optimize any inefficiencies by analyzing seemingly endless volumes of data (Big Data).

At the same time, people become information organisms and data suppliers that are connected round-the-clock to other people and digital terminals, such as wearable "smart" devices. In the end, we no longer differentiate between the physical world and the information universe. This creates an infosphere, an informational environment comprised of all information units (people, algorithms, and devices) as well as their characteristics, interactions, processes and mutual relationships.

Everything that exists is information, and everything that is informative also exists. The infosphere is not a virtual space that is distinct from the real world. Rather, the world itself is increasingly being considered an information space and part of the infosphere.

Younger generations in particular, who have spent a great deal of time in information environments since they were small children, would feel like a fish out of water if they were shut out of the global stream of information.

This means that what is currently happening is similar to a new revolution. Luciano Floridi* describes the emergence of the infosphere as the fourth revolution that is radically changing our consciousness and self-awareness, because human intelligence is being called into question by artificial intelligence.

People are suddenly realizing that humans achieve a greater advantage with machines than with other humans-but human beings need to first define their new role. What are the jobs of the future? Which skills do we need to attain? And how is the government handling the threat of massive job losses through optimization?

However, with all of these changes caused by machines, we also need to consider what it is that makes people so unique as human beings: the possibility of transcendence. ICTs (information and communication technologies) follow their creators' orders, and that will not change even if they continue to evolve dynamically or learn from their environment. Humans draw the blueprint, because only a human being can understand an order as an order and the system as a system. We are the only living creatures who can create a context, and as far as we know, everything else can only follow a context, without recognizing the context as such. Herein lies the source of creativity and the genuinely new.

The infosphere was the level of abstraction that Turing gave to the world, and now it is up to us to decide to what extent we want to see the world this way, or if something else is needed to help humanity achieve perpetual creation.

*Luciano Floridi, The 4th revolution: How the infosphere is reshaping human reality, Oxford University Press, 2014

This post is excerpted from Hubert Burda's book, "Diary on the Digital Revolution: Notes from 1990-2015."