IONELA GHEȚE: New technology ethics, bioethics, robotics or copyright ethics – your fields of research cover a wide range of interests that largely concern future development, both technologically and socially or, why not, politically. Which of the currently emerging technologies do you think would make interesting topics of investigation for artists? Which combination of your areas of interest could produce artworks that could prove appealing and relevant to the future foreseen by the technologies you study?


CONSTANTIN VICĂ: Neurotechnologies and Virtual Reality (including the haptic dimension) can be used together to generate new visual and tactile experiences, in immersions that can be not only be measured, but also influenced by neural intervention. It sounds like alchemy, but it is not. Naturally, these things could be done (and are already done) only by interdisciplinary teams of artists, researchers in neuroscience and computer science, psychologists and, why not, philosophers.

I would not leave nanotechnologies aside either – the future material(ity) is in our hands. Each of us could become a gallery or art museum, a carrier of aesthetic nanobots. Or the world inside and on our bodies could join a network of nanoartifacts, but this would require biotechnology and synthetic biology as well. Bioart is not new, but at this scale of life and matter it would be something new.


IG: Starting with your PhD and your work in the years after that, your concerns with copyright ethics have been constant. Has your philosophical position changed in light of the encounters you have had so far with people dealing with copyright in areas other than those that interest you?


CV: I am a moderate critic of intellectual property. The more harm it can do to the “access to culture” (as cultural beings, both as signified and signifier, we have constant access to culture in our capacity as permanent creators; I do not mean the anthropological sense, but rather the economic one) and the circulation of ideas and works, the more necessary it becomes as an institution that motivates authors. The problem is not the copyright itself, but how those who control cultural markets use it, sometimes against authors, not just against the public and those involved in illegal distribution or access. Copyright benefits producers and intermediaries primarily. Without it – this is a so-called paradox – the authors would not be protected. They would be at the mercy of their employers. However, this set of rights (there are several rights, if we study the law closely) is a disguised form of privilege showing its pre-democratic origins. Even if the basis of copyright is the work and effort they require or their social utility – authors can create because they have limited monopoly on their work, but their work brings public benefits – it is still not enough. It is worth making a distinction between art and science. In the case of science, copyright doesn’t make much sense. Scientific knowledge is a form of commun(al)ism; it cannot belong to anyone in particular. Scientific discoveries are difficult to make, but not impossible when everything is visible and accessible; moreover, knowledge requires open sources. Art, on the other hand, is a different kind of production of meaning. It is less collective, although it can involve teams, less dependent on previous knowledge (which is necessary, so that we should not repeat the same moment indefinitely, but become part of history, genealogy etc.), and even less obliged to contribute to social welfare, to the advancement of knowledge.

The current copyright and patent regime is unfair, often abusive. Especially to the public. Does it discriminate? Yes. But art is also a form of discrimination, one between those who understand it and those who do not. This discrimination, let’s call it cognitive, is not necessarily immoral, since anyone can choose the kind of art they like, according to their own taste. However, the discrimination dictated by the intellectual property regime is not about the freedom to choose and to be chosen; it is the result of artificially imposed inequality.


IG: You probably know that in the past years, a software application has been developed that measures the quality of images (especially photographs) according to their attractiveness (algorithmically calculated) and recommends whether or not they should be posted on social networks or used in various marketing campaigns. How do you assess the potential and involvement of these technologies in relation to a possible increase in the overall quality of future artistic products?


CV: In my opinion, art and instart need to be measured in the same way. Posts on online social platforms are a tool to attract, to capture attention. Therefore, the marketing and promotion “logic” acts on them too. It is so powerful, that many of us turn into instart only to be recognised as something or someone. The temptation to apply the capitalism of surveillance and datafication to anything must be overcome. Art is not measured, it is interpreted. Similarly, data are interpreted and give results in algorithmic processes, but I’m afraid we are talking about different interpretations. In art there are no misinterpretations, but inadequate, limiting, weak etc. interpretations. We wouldn’t want that from algorithms too.


IG: Has any work of art/artistic product addressing one of your research topics ever inspired you in the sense that it posed a new problem or made you deal with an issue in a new way, from a different perspective?


CV: It happens all the time. Art, both visual and performative, works as a guide in my philosophical research. I open my eyes to see what theory cannot help me contemplate. I make myself discover the “third way” between intellect and sensitivity. I think art aims not to arouse emotion, but to generate new cognitive “flows”. Joseph Kosuth, Sophie Calle or Matei Bejenaru, to name just a few, are permanent sources of reflection. Likewise, the introduction of Nam June Paik or Eva and Franco Mattes ( in an online ethics course has beneficial effects on the critical course of the discussion.

Art is as necessary as science if you want to understand your world and moral universe completely. However, unlike science, art is easier to follow. Without stealing anything from their aura and aesthetic role, I believe that the best works of art are those that investigate in an ethical manner. Art (at least art that is not committed to one regime or another, such as socialist realism) is not moralizing, but it is a laboratory of moral experiments. I am not at all impressed by transgressive art (with certain exceptions, for example what Ion Grigorescu did in the late ’70s), because, in principle, any art is self-reflected transgression, and in this lies its moral value. Or at least one of its values.


IG: You have, I would say, a rather optimistic perspective on the development of new technologies, from biomedical technologies to robots. What would you say to someone who fears that robots will get out of control, turn us into slaves or simply replace us?


CV: I like to think I have a realistic approach to the openings and limitations of any technology. I am not a technological determinist, nor a salvationist, I try not to be pessimistic, although if we look at what is happening online, in and through social media… Robots are the last political problem of power. They are perhaps the first problem of social and economic policies. I am referring to the ideological mantra of automation and overcoming a world of working people. It can be a dangerous utopia if we do not consider it within the wider context of human life: what will we do when we can no longer work? How will the resources be shared etc.?

We should not see technology as an artifact, the Terminator robot, but as an ideology that enchants our minds. The fear of robots is irrational (but not if you are targeted by war drones) and just as irrational is the passion for new gadgets and tools that build a digital twin for everyone. This is what getting out of control means.

If we look at robots, we do not see beyond them. And beyond them lie economic and political interests, games of domination, capital.


IG: Biomedical technologies have a great potential to improve our health and implicitly our life. Following the digital divide model in the sphere of internet access, they also have the potential to create major differences between those who have and those who do not have access to them. In your opinion, can we enjoy their beneficial potential by minimizing their segregationist capacity?


CV: It depends on what technologies we are talking about. We already have access to some of them, such as the ability to produce messenger RNA and maybe put an end to this pandemic. And, possibly, to eradicate cancer. This is very good.

Nevertheless, if we think about enhancement, physical, cognitive or moral technologies, then we are in for a long debate. Some philosophers, such as Michael Sandel or Jürgen Habermas, argue that these technologies have social disruptive potential and can lead to inequity, inequality, marginalization and even forms of social neo-Darwinism. Some call it eugenics. But their fears may be exaggerated. It is not Adderall or the nootropics that will enslave the world, but the people who will try to change the structure of rights and freedom, raising the risk of granting higher legal status to those enhanced.

Obviously, the debate is much more complex than this. What I have been trying to do is put the institutions and the people’s structure of opportunities etc. back into the equation. Today, segregation exists primarily for ethnic and religious reasons, but also because of groundless elitism. If improvement technologies were accessible to everybody – we try to make educational techniques available, this is the classic form of improvement we practice –, if participation were voluntary and if being improved did not give rise to any legal privilege, the world would probably not look different from today, in terms of human relationships. This is not an argument in favour of improving technologies, since today’s world is obviously unfair, as it has been throughout history. Maybe such technologies can make it better. But this is not a technical issue.


IG: Is the universal basic income (UBI) the opportunity that artists have been waiting for in terms of the material comfort needed to create? Do you think UBI could be a way of encouraging creativity?


CV: It could be, if it were introduced in a stimulating way, not as an approximate, emergency solution. I think the art world is very rich, but most artists are not. UBI could be implemented only for artists. How? Higher taxes on bids and sales, however proportional to the (market) value of the work. 

UBI critics claim that it would make us dependent on political authority. That it would be similar to the situation in communism, when members of the Visual Artists’ or the Writers’ Union of Romania depended on funding from the government. This does not happen in a democracy. And free time, as we can see, brings us closer to politics. In a world according to UBI, we could be more interested in res publica, in the government’s public affairs.

UBI is neither leftist nor rightist, but combines the claims of both positions. That is why we cannot ignore it as a utopian or radical proposal. There is nothing radical about not worrying about tomorrow. For the poor social classes, it is something new from the historical viewpoint.


IG: Do you think that science fiction works (books, movies, games etc.) have the potential to adjust our expectations and emotions to the future?


CV: No, they can prevent us from building the future, which is up to what everyone does in the present. We already have a history of science fiction and we can see that SF authors were quite wrong about the future. Their goal, however, is fiction, not prophecy. As works of fiction, SF creations are intellectually challenging. But beyond the game they propose, if we end up delegating our future to screenplay writers, then it will not be our future. False expectations, utopian dreams, irrational fears – all can be sold through the cultural industries that produce SF works. Imagination is charming, but it involves the risk of getting lost in its own web. That is why I think we should read any fiction about the future, even infused with scientific elements, as a critique of the present. After all, a SF video game is about you, the player of today. You play it, you make it update, you make it happen.