Contribution to the UNESCO conference on “World Higher Education” (WHEC) – A digitally education system with a bioethical framework

by Claudia Fini, Chair Research Scholar

In contribution to the UNESCO conference on “World Higher Education” (WHEC), the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights collaborated with Portulans Institute and IIASA for the production of a policy brief entitled: Building a digitally ready education system with a bioethical framework – the new normal.

The Conference will take place in Barcelona, Spain from May 18th until May 20th with the aim of discussing and defining a roadmap for a new era of higher education. This roadmap will specifically address to the challenges faced by higher education, with special attention to the global disruption created by the COVID-19.

Against this background, our policy brief addresses the issue of digital education, often taken for granted or addressed inadequately in the growingly digital social context. According to our policy brief, digital education should be presented through the concept of digital literacy, which encompasses both practical digital skills (such as file management, use of software and coding), but also thinking attributes, aimed at the use of technologies in a safe and ethical way. Against this background, our collaboration presented a digital education model that develops through a bioethical framework based on the values ​​of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights.

A concrete example of the application of digital literacy skills in education is represented by the increasingly common phenomenon of disinformation. In fact, like most digital technologies, one of the most difficult aspects in managing disinformation is its rapid spread, accompanied by the difficulty of implementing corrective educational measures of the phenomenon as soon as disinformation materials are generated. According to Dr. Nadejda Komendantova, disinformation must be identified immediately along with people’s general willingness to read correct information. To this end, debunking communications in order to correct disinformation often exacerbates the effects of disinformation. On the other hand, Dr. Komendantova believes that promoting critical thinking and socio-emotional skills in students allows to break the cycle of disinformation. These specific thinking skills should be promoted through various educational activities including, for example, outreach and awareness events focusing on disinformation on the Internet. Overall, critical thinking skills should reflect the creation of an information culture in which people do not rush to draw conclusions, but give themselves time to seek alternative sources of information.

Training Course in Neurobioethics: NEUROBIOETHICS AND THE METAVERSE – VI edition

OBJECTIVES AND PROGRAM

The Interdisciplinary Research Group in Neurobioethics (GdN) of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum (APRA) in Rome, taking its lead from neuroscientific research and applications of emerging and converging technologies to humans, will devote the reflection, research, publication and training of the year 2022-2023 to the critical examination of scenarios related to the so-called “Metaverse”: from the developments and medical-clinical applications of virtual reality and augmented reality (in particular in the neurological, neurosurgical and psychiatric context), to the philosophical-theological and neuroethical reflections on the same technological tools.

These themes of robotics, of the development of artificial intelligence, of the multiple applications of human enhancement, are questions that today’s men and women are called to address in order to decide the direction to give to technological progress.

This sixth specialization course in neurobioethics ‘Neurobioethics and Metaverse’ will gather the results of the interdisciplinary reflection of the GdN. The course will be offered in Italian and English and will be streamed online and recorded for those who register.

The year 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction, in a scientific context, of the neologism “neuro-ethics” by the neuropsychiatrist Anneliese Alma Pontius. After a 13-year research experience, the GdN will offer a series of 10 seminars and round tables from September 2022 to June 2023, (including the March conference within the World Brain Week promoted by the DANA Foundation) on the technological, neurological, neurosurgical, psychiatric, psychological, ethical, bioethical, legal and theological aspects related to the concept of “Metaverse”. The main purpose is to become aware of the anthropological, ethical, legal, health and social consequences and repercussions of such virtual and augmented reality uses and interventions for human life.

Special emphasis will be given to the consideration of issues related to the principles enshrined in the 2005 UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. This sensitivity will specifically touch on issues related to the limit, dignity, identity and value of the human body.

Promoters:

Faculty of Bioethics

UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights

Institute of Science and Faith

COURSE STRUCTURE

The course consists of a monthly meeting of two hours (seminar or round table). The dates, times of the meetings are as follows:

23/09/2022, 17-19:00

28/10/2022, 17-19:00

25/11/2022, 17-19:00

16/12/2022, 17-19:00

27/01/2023, 17-19:00

24/02/2023, 17-19:00

17/03/2023, World Brain Week Conference, 15-19:00

28/04/2023, 17-19:00

26/05/2023, 17-19:00

23/06/2023, 17-19:00

The specific contents and speakers will be communicated month by month and will range from technological, neurological, neurosurgical, psychiatric, psychological, ethical, bioethical, legal and theological aspects related to the concept of “Metaverse”.

AUDIENCE

The training course is aimed at those who want to become more aware of the development and application of emerging technologies to human beings; in particular: politicians, engineers, doctors, bioethicists, philosophers, theologians, teachers and formators. A certificate will be issued at the end of the course and 3 ECTS credits will be awarded, after the evaluation of a written work.

ENROLLMENT

The registration and total course fee is € 400.

Enrollment by 30/09/2022: € 50 discount

Enrollment deadline: 28/10/2022

Training Course Coordinator:

Prof. Fr. Alberto Carrara, L.C.

alberto.carrara@upra.org

For further information

Faculty of Bioethics

Tel: 06/916891

info.bioetica@upra.org

The Matrix Resurrections

By Ana Maria Ganev, Chair Intern and PhD candidate

“You take the blue pill and the story ends.

You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.

You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland

and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

(The Matrix 1999)

The Matrix is a media franchise that consists of four feature action films, beginning with The Matrix (1999) and continuing with three sequels, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions (both 2003), and The Matrix Resurrections (2021). The film is set sixty years after Revolutions and we find Thomas Anderson, alias Neo, as a successful video game developer at a company called Deus Machina. Neo is a suicide survivor gifted with a powerful imagination, constantly on the verge of having a mental breakdown, because of a “splinter in the mind” (again) taunting him that he lives imprisoned inside a computer-generated world. That’s why his therapist is constantly prescribing Neo blue pills, which anchor him ever more to a reality he cannot fully accept. The video game series created by Neo is called “The Matrix” and one of the characters (Trinity) is based on a married woman (Tiffany) with whom he seldom crosses paths at a coffee shop, called “Simulatte”. She is completely oblivious of her past, even if she is not happy with her actual life and is melancholic for something she cannot quite remember. Meanwhile a young hacker named Bugs manages to track Neo down and frees him from the Matrix. Bugs uses a program embodying Morpheus before being caught by Agent Smith, the security system of the Matrix.

The first part of the movie is a kind of meta-narration of contemporaneity, consisting of allusions to, and quotations from, the past Matrix movies that are brought back to life in a double game of revival and reiteration of topics such as choice, the paradox between free will and predetermined destiny, dreams and reality, technoslavery, and the power of true love. The second part of the movie sees Neo and his new “friends” attempt to save Tiffany (Trinity) and try once again to restore to freedom all mankind from the mind imprisonment of the new Matrix.

The self-referential, first part of the film contains a moment of brainstorming of Neo and his colleagues when asked to make a sequel to his original Matrix trilogy. Some of them considered the Matrix series as a metaphor of the capitalist exploitation or to be about trans-politics, crypto-fascism, or simply about mindless action with lots of guns and tacky philosophy. All the participants had something to say about the trilogy. Although they sincerely thought they grasped the trilogy’s true meaning, their assessments were superficial and mocking. Neo felt as never before to be alien to all that was happening or was being said. However, he was soon to be rescued. It is worth mentioning that Neo is the One, the prophesized Savior of humans enslaved by the Matrix, a self-aware artificial intelligence (note the clever anagram of Neo = One). Even though he was convinced to undertake his role only at the end of the first movie after he returns from death through Trinity’s kiss, his chosen name is one of the proofs that he is The One, the Messiah of the new millennium. Thus, he has to undergo once more the path of enlightenment. In this process, we are given all the things that became mainstream after the first Matrix movie: the choice between the red pill and the blue pill, the mirror bending, and Neo following the girl with a White Rabbit tattoo. As mentioned in the film: “Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia”.

But what exactly is this New Matrix?

The old Matrix was an artificial reality created by machines and designed by the Architect, a system of control. It was a world in which all reality is nothing more than electrical signals sent to the brains. As Morpheus describes it: “a world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” In fact, the truth is that there are “endless fields where human beings are no longer born; but they are grown” to serve as batteries providing energy to Machines.

The New Matrix, instead, is designed by the Analyst, Neo’s psychotherapist, who studied the human mind in greater depth.  Unlike his predecessor, who concentrated on precision, facts and equations, the new designer realized that for humans, the only world that matters is the interior one. He sees that the only thing that validates and makes human fictions real are feelings. In the Analyst’s words “here’s the thing about feelings. They’re so much easier to control than facts. Turns out, in my Matrix, the worse we treat you, the more we manipulate you, the more energy you produce. It’s nuts”. Therefore, pod-sleeping humans generate more electric power when quietly longing for what they do not have, while dreading losing what they do have in a constant wavering between desire and fear. Lately, troubles, worries, woes and suffering, grief or heartache are ubiquitous feelings due to various socio-economic problems, moral distress, in addition to the pandemic emergency. This set of emotions is perfectly encapsulated by the Yiddish word “tsuris”, a feeling of nervous energy. Indeed, we quickly become exhausted when in pain and sorrow, but feel powerful when happy and fulfilled. What the Analyst does not take into account is the power of true love, the one between Neo and Trinity, an even stronger force than all the misery in which the program pushed their psyches.

In this fourth chapter of the matrix series, there have been some updates like mirror portals and doorways for entering and exiting the Matrix (no more phone booths), synthients (good Machines that collaborate with humans), and a new way of unplugging a body from the Matrix (a brain bypass).

The writers of “The Matrix Resurrections” action film do not take for granted the series legacy and all of the philosophical issues raised in the previous films. They are well aware of the past critiques and the low expectations for yet another sequel of a successful franchise. Nevertheless, once again this science fiction movie provides food for thought, well-seasoned with nostalgia, self-mockery, kung-fu scenes, and updated views on artificial intelligence.

The Research Group of Neurobioethics of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights has been actively exploring scientific developments in neuroscience, as well as recent achievements made in the field of neurotechnology, with a particular focus on emerging scenarios of the progressive human-technology hybridization. The neuro-technological progress challenges us to an increased awareness of our relationship with technology, invasive and non-invasive systems of neural interface, mind uploading into the network, and mind unplugging from the artificial intelligence (AI). Thus, the Matrix series offers us some plausible future scenarios of the evolution of the “artificially” natural bond between mankind and neurotechnology.

“Face reality, people. Movies are dead.

Games are dead.

Narrative? Dead.

Media is nothing but neuro-trigger response and viral conditioning.

Wait, what are you two talking about?

Cat videos.

What we need is a series of videos that we call “The Catrix.””

(The Matrix Resurrections 2021)

Fr. Alberto Carrara, L.C., Coordinator Of The Neurobioethics Group, at the meeting “Catholic Fact-Checking.”

On January 28, 2022, at the ‘Catholic Fact-Checking’ meeting organized by the International Catholic Media Consortium, Fr. Alberto Carrara, L.C., Coordinator of the APRA Neurobioethics Group – President of the International Institute of Neurobioethics, presented the new International Institute of Neurobioethics to Pope Francis.

Read the Holy Father Francis’ address to the participants of the meeting “Catholic Fact-Checking.”

The International UNESCO Chairs Forum on the Futures of Higher Education

The International UNESCO Chairs Forum on the Futures of Higher Education is organized jointly by Italy and UNESCO at Expo 2020 Dubai to mark the International Day of Education 2022 on 24 January.

Watch the live streaming

The International UNESCO Chairs Forum is held within the framework of UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative and it is one of the preparatory events for the 3rd UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) to be held 18-20 May 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. The Italian UNESCO Chairs participate with “The Declaration of UNESCO Chairs for Sustainability” as a collective subject, at the International Forum of UNESCO Chairs organized by Italy Expo 2020 and UNESCO to celebrate the World Education Day on January 24, 2022.

The Forum provides a platform for collective interdisciplinary intelligence relating to the futures of higher education systems, with a focus on skills development in the context of the uncertain futures of work, as well as on the digital transformation of our societies and its implications for higher education.

Read the program