Knowledge theories usually assume that reality is subjectively and socially constructed by humans. Normally, both ways are closely interwoven. The most comprehensive theory was designed by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in “The Social Construction Of Reality”. “Construction of reality” is covered or deepened by further theories: the theory of the practice of Pierre Bourdieu, and Michel Foucault’s theory about the discursive construction of reality. All of these theories came about within a decade between 1965 and 1975. They were fruitful and initiated many discussions that continue to this day and are interdisciplinary.
 At that time, there had long been information technology, the necessary computer, and surely that was no longer an exotic matter. The memorandum “The Triple Revolution” thematized the “Cybernation Revolution”, and that was in March 1964. Nevertheless, in order to use a very general and overarching concept, “the digital” still did not play any role in the world-famous epistemologies. This certainly had something to do with the fact that at that time the increasing mechanical automation of manufacturing processes, especially with regard to job losses and not yet in terms of Artificial Intelligence, was analyzed.
 Today, the widespread digitalization that has taken place in all areas of life and production raises the problem of the digital construction of reality as a novel problem.
 The social and subjective construction of reality is closely related to forms and methods of perceiving reality as well as knowledge of reality. The latter could be called reality knowledge.
 Berger and Luckmann base their knowledge-sociological theory on the basic situation of evidence. It is about everyday knowledge, that with the help of a lived everyday situation can be verified, or, on the contrary, everyday knowledge must be modified as wrong or inadequate. First and foremost, the basic authority is the concrete individual person who employs his or her senses: seeing, hearing, touching. It concerns only the initial situation or basic situation of the social construction of reality.
 How does this basic situation change when reality is increasingly digitally constructed? What does, first of all, “digital construction of reality” mean?
The digital construction of reality – an empirical finding
 Digital media cover a very broad spectrum, ranging from science to art and culture, business, politics, games and social media. Many digital techniques used in the home (household), in industrial and agricultural production, vehicles, weather forecast, etc. are based on the construction of a specific reality. It is based on the fundamental meaning of algorithms, so that it is spoken of the “computational construction of reality”.
 This is a significant difference from previous human construction methods, which originally built on the basic situation of vis-à-vis and immediate vision. An example: The fact that the exo-planet Kepler 90i exists and that it is real, one knows only because of the evaluation of 14 billion data of the Space Telescope Kepler. Its reality is, at least so far, purely mathematically proven.
 The “computational construction of reality” is one aspect; another is the capture of reality, especially micro-reality, through sensors and cameras to the extent that the human senses of seeing and feeling cannot.
 Let us ask, where reality is digitally constructed everywhere. I start with simple processes and methods that can be summarized quite well with the framework of “augmented reality” and “anticipated reality.” High-resolution digitization in 2D or 3D of objects of all kinds can reveal properties of these objects that were previously unrecognizable to the naked eye or the magnifying glass. A concrete example is the study of early modern architectural drawings in the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome using high-resolution digitization.
 This is similar to the x-ray of organs under the skin or lower layers on old paintings. Digitization, like x-rays or computed tomography, leads to augmented reality. Of course, augmented reality involves much more than in the basic example. That, metaphorically speaking, to look under the skin without having to open the object or dissect the body, has a special charm in the sciences, because this was not possible before the invention of suitable techniques, but people wondered whether it is not possible to be able to look under the skin or the object undamaged or unopened under the surface of the living body.
 This basic situation of augmented reality nevertheless opens the view to potentially inexhaustible new worlds of knowledge. It also opens the view to the simultaneous visualization of knowledge and realities that only digital technology allows. We know it from the television, if i.e. at football matches in a free kick, the exact distance to the gate is displayed on your screen or when you walk with a matching app on your smartphone through a historic city center and get on buildings and squares additional information on history, changing uses and special events.
 In the historical retrospective, all of this is already enormously changing our perception of reality because digitalization and digital visualization free our sensory perception from the dictates of vis-à-vis and immediate seeing. At which concrete location the real world is, becomes less important, because it can be merged arbitrarily on the screen.
 This digital merging on screen also represents something other than the representation of those parts of the real world that are not physically accessible to us at the same time, through symbol and symbol systems such as speech and writing or performative elements.
 The limit to the digital fictionalization of reality as practiced in the global blockbusters such as Jurassic World, Star Wars, Godzilla or Avatar, etc., etc., is extremely blurred, by the way. One has to learn, especially if one is an urban digital native, where the border between real augmented reality and fictionalized augmented reality is located.
 As an anticipated or augmented reality, the results from the analysis of data can also be described using algorithms designed to predict the likelihood of home burglary in a given quarter on certain days in certain seasons at specific times, so that the police can take preventative measures. Similar practices lead to anticipated realities in relation to detained offenders; instead of a social forecast made by a human being, it is calculated from the collected and entered data how offenders A or B will most likely behave. From this conclusions are drawn, i.e. that early release should not be made.
 These methods are highly criticizable because, as it has already been shown, the data being evaluated have been created on the slide by stereotypes and prejudices, or because privacy is being overlooked, but I do not want to deal with that today. It is about the possibility of the anticipated reality by means of digital techniques that is clearly different from the ancient cultural techniques of prophecy, fortune telling, clairvoyance, sign meaning and prognosis on the basis of psychological opinions or economic mathematics. The claim to objectivity, validity and application is much greater.
 Another example of an anticipated reality is the use of algorithms that can be used by a human in a particular situation, e.g. in the situation of being a refugee, to find out where he can best find work. For this purpose, as many features as possible were combined as an employee of the employment office can never accomplish. That is, there is a reality that is favorable to the refugee, but of which one only gets knowledge when working with the special algorithm. If not, it is invisible, though it exists objectively. The principle is not new, it is known from market studies, which are carried out, for example, before deciding whether to build a new supermarket at a certain location. However, while a market study takes a few weeks or more, the algorithm works on the data, that were collected anyway, within a few moments and yields a result. Here comes also the speed, the acceleration of the perception of reality into play, which is denied man with his senses.
Forms of digitization and their relationship to “reality”
 The decisive difference in relation to the previous assumptions, under which the social construction of reality has been, so to speak, the unrivaled path of the construction of reality, consists in the combination of digitization, augmented reality or anticipated reality and Artificial Intelligence.
 Digitization means a lot, I just want to go into three forms here.
 (1) All objects and material evidence of all previous cultures and societies including the topography are being digitized bit by bit. It will take a while, but it happens. So one day, not too far away, the entire world will be available to us in trillions of digital copies, which, if all accept the open-access philosophy, we can call on our screens and combine them as we like. Then there are the digital objects that contain digital reconstructions of things and spaces or landscapes that no longer exist but that once existed. We will be able to visualize the entire world, including its history, from the first people on the screen. This is the highest dimension of augmented reality, which we can also take outside our own four walls and incorporate into our experience of reality in a vis-à-vis situation. At the same time, this reduces the stock of the mysterious and the unenlightened, which has played a very important role in human history so far.
 (2) A second increasingly centralized form of digitization is filming through web-enabled cameras of all types attached to devices of all kinds: drones, video surveillance, self-driving cars and other mobile devices, moving robots, that deliver your pizza to the front door, smartphones, etc. Here is reality filmed, which is in principle also experienced sensually in the situation of vis-à-vis. This is done sectorally, but the camera has the function of a silent witness of reality; it is there live and archives the events from the real-time for all possible uses.
 Such a comprehensive collection of reality and archiving is connected with the fact that it apparently overrides a previous basic requirement of social construction of reality or will do so sooner or later: the protected space of privacy melts away. The functions of ignorance, of the small secret and of oblivion for the social construction of reality are annulled.
 To understand what is happening, think less about George Orwell and Big Brother. The digital video objects can be used for a variety of purposes, among which Big Brother is just one conceivable purpose. What is more important is that the perception of reality here has less and less white spots, especially as I said at the beginning of the example of the exo-planet Kepler90i: No one has seen it so far, even the Kepler telescope has not ‘seen’ it, nevertheless it is Reality, because it can be calculated from empirically collected data. This method is used in many contexts. That is, what we have previously experienced as reality is being replaced by a reality that potentially has no white spots left, which in this sense is “total.” This totality was previously not possible in history and also unimaginable, now it becomes a reality.
 This raises a great philosophical problem: Hans Blumenberg once wrote that people used to train the myths in order to liberate themselves from the “absolutism of reality.” Now we face a totality of reality: what will we humans do to free ourselves from it?
 (3) Other forms of digitization include machines, appliances, automobiles and other mobility devices, robots, etc., that no longer just complete standard programs with the software they have been able to do for decades, but can learn from any situation and thus become more and more independent of pre-set action types and act automatically. This form of digitization is inseparable from Artificial Intelligence. The most common question is whether in the future these smart devices will not only support and facilitate us in everyday life, but whether they will dominate us and deprive us of our freedom of choice, because they think more rationally, more ecologically, more logically, as a human being.
 The terms “think” and “act” are appropriate here, especially as the border with the human robot is blurred. These devices, which can basically be called robots, become human interaction partners, even now, not just in the vision of the humanoid robot we will not get so soon. However, the interaction partner is a central aspect in the social construction of reality. Berger and Luckmann had stated that everyday reality is the reality par excellence. So what does it mean that the objects and interaction partners of everyday reality become robots with Artificial Intelligence?
Construction of Reality and Data Science
 Not all digitization processes are linked yet, and not all data from all digitizations can be linked and evaluated. The protection of personal data, the right of informational self-determination are human rights that oppose this. Not every data link seems appropriate, so forget it. The larger the amount of data, the larger supercomputers and the more you need. The next generation of such supercomputers will cost more than € 1 billion per plant, the power consumption is that of a small town, and the regularly starting of emergency diesel generators to test their functioning pollute the air like a giant steamer fueling its engines with heavy fuel oil.
 Nevertheless, the likelihood that more and more diverse data are linked together and evaluated according to new questions is very high – that’s exactly what the aspiring Data Science takes care of. Artificial Intelligence makes it possible to automate the generation of questions. Afterwards, the extensive data – Big Data – is searched and evaluated on its own, so that in the end I just have to decide whether I can or want to do something with the result; but also in this regard, the program can give me well-considered suggestions. This works in terms of science as well as in everyday life, the everyday reality.
 Not only will the white spots disappear from the perception of reality, it will not only be able to widen reality through arithmetical operations and augmented reality in the narrower conventional sense of the word, but reality will be accessible to individuals on an unprecedented scale and always in more than only one scope of action and interaction as well as interpretation options.
 One can assume that this benefits the autonomy of the individual. But what comes to all of us? So far, social construction of reality and social development have been an entangled process. Will that stay that way? Will the autonomization of the individual lead to the atomization of the lifeworld? This would mean not only the reduction or the end of society, but also of the state and the collective identities. This danger exists, at least the consequences of the digital construction of reality cannot be overlooked yet.
 However, previous theories of reality-construction have a potential “deficit,” that they barely take into account the process of liquefying the social world that has been analyzed by many philosophers and sociologists, such as Zygmunt Bauman or Richard Sennett. The digital construction of reality supports the individual in a liquefying world.
 The epistemological task for the near future is to analyze the socially constructive as well as the socially destructive character of the digital construction of reality and to set up guard rails.
Documentation: This text represents the enlarged version of a paper given at the symposium “Digitalisation”, organized by European Academy of Arts and Sciences, Salzburg 2 March 2018.
How to cite this article: Wolfgang Schmale: Digital Construction of Reality – Epistemological Aspects, in: https://wolfgangschmale.eu/digital-construction-of-reality [2 March 2018]