Archives at NCBS | Informal Talk
A Philosophy for Technology
Usha Ramanathan
Wednesday, Sep 6, 2023. 5:00pm.
Lecture Hall-1, NCBS.
Video recording:
The 21st century began with a stir of excitement about technology: the spread of the Internet, the mobile phone, instant communication, and finding people long forgotten. It just seemed to get better and better in the second decade with the world in your pocket and widely accessible instant messaging. We developed a virtual existence far removed from the grime and grit of the reality around. Taxis, lunch and dinner, and cleaning up our homes started to be on call more than before. And payments started to be processed quickly, at our fingertips. And then, the shift with a new range of words and phrases: the filter bubble, the black box, surveillance, smart technology and suspect people, artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, redundancy, human augmentation, data as resource, control, autonomy, consent, and presenceless. And all these in a world created by technology. 
Do we then need to re-think the human: who are we? How do we see ourselves, and how do we see others seeing us? What happens when Jeremy Bentham meets Franz Kafka, and when Kafka and Bentham’s philosophies meet Aldous Huxley’s worldview? What happens when we confront ourselves in the mirror that is being set up to reflect us?
The session will be an exploration of the human in the world that tech is creating.
This is a follow-up informal discussion to a lecture delivered by Usha Ramanathan at NCBS in 2019 on the recent history of technology and databases in governance in India.
Usha Ramanathan works on the jurisprudence of law, poverty and rights. She researches, writes and speaks on issues that include the nature of law, Bhopal Gas Disaster, mass displacement, eminent domain, manual scavenging, civil liberties including the death penalty, beggary, criminal law, custodial institutions, the environment, judicial process. Ramanathan has been tracking, and engaging with, the Indian national ID project and has written, and debated extensively, on the subject. She has been writing and debating issues of technology and the human conditions of freedom and liberty over the years.
She was a member of the Expert Group on Privacy set up in the Planning Commission of India which gave in its report in October 2012. She was a member of a committee (2013-14) set up in the Department of Biotechnology to review the Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill 2012. She was a member of the Committee set up by the Prime Minister's Office (2013-14) to study the socio-economic status of tribal communities which gave its report to the government in 2014. She has been on a series of committees on revising the vagrancy law. In 2019, Usha Ramanathan was awarded Access Now's Human Rights Heroes Award.