Category: Ontology

The Ontological Layers of AI

Can we model reality as a universal standard? Or are we just fooling ourselves in an expedient corporate rush?

The Berinmo people of Papua New Guinea are a small tribe of people with a curious flourish in their language. Specifically, they do not distinguish between green and blue, and they have two separate words for types of yellow. This has deep implications for those who argue for a consistent and objective real (universalists), and the ultimate possibility of artificial intelligence. We’ll come back to the Berinmo, and color linguistics later. While strategies for the avoidance of bias in AI focus on the injury of minority oppression and design failings in creator preference, a deeper semantic analysis of some of the fundamentals of AI reveal several foundational assumptions that give cause for concern. Simply put, the fundamental task of an AI is to construct an image of the world within the parameters of its design (from narrowly defined chatbot engines to Artificial General Intelligence or AGI), which in turn establishes the context for automatic machine decisions to be made. In order to arrive at that image of the world – the simulated real – there are several intermediate layers that each introduces a risk of misinterpretation. This article will walk through each, and understand where some of those challenges might lie. But first, Heidegger.

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Epistemic Theology and Epistemic Technology

The 'Robotic Moment' | Essay by Sherry Turkle | Britannica
We are in what Sherry Turkle calls ‘the robotic moment’

In considering my proposal of technological theology as a waypoint in our current trajectory, from religious, political and economic theology, the idea of epistemic theology was brought to my attention in considering the grounding of Carl Schmitt. There have been questions about the theology of Schmitt (was he primarily Christian, or secular?), and some questions over whether political theology is about the politics of theology or the theology of politics; medieval political theology certainly appears to have been about the latter. Adam Kotsko suggests political theology is more concerned with the relationship between the two fields of theology and politics, though the consensus is moving towards what he calls a politically-engaged theology. My reading, reflects a range of kinds of theology, in that political theology is an ontological structure, allowing the world to be understood and engaged with. Just as Deleuze and Guattari argued that the role of the philosopher is to ‘create concepts’ (What is Philosophy?, 1991(FR), 1994(transl.), Columbia, p.5), so political theology is a way to understand the world, to understand the real in social, or more specifically political terms. It is, in Schmitt’s explanation, a secular theology (Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Chicago UP, 1985/2005).

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Fake News and Philosophy

One side effect of the global pandemic is the demise of the conspiratorial huddle, the plotting and the planning over a pint, the dreams of potential realised, riches won, utopias secured. There’s a comfort in the dream, with its glimmer of possibility; though also a buried rationalism that will soften the blow when, in the cold light of the morning, we leave those dreams to one side and pull on our work shoes. Where is the real person in all of this? Is the real person the dreamer, or the worker? Society is largely divided into these groups, of the dreamers and the workers. Most are workers, and some – the artists, musicians, poets – are dreamers. Few get rich – in either category – and happiness appears distributed with a similar consistency.

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The Soul of the State

Our stories define us; and how
we tell them is really important.

In his 2019 book The World Philosophy Made, Scott Soames quotes the historian of Greek religion Walter Burkert, who claimed that the epic poetry of Homer and Hesiod was no less than ‘the glue that held Greek society and culture together.’ Burkert says that ‘[t]he authority to whom the Greeks appealed was the poetry of Hesiod and, above all, Homer. The spiritual unity of the Greeks was founded and upheld by poetry – a poetry which could still draw on living oral tradition to produce a felicitous union of freedom and form, spontaneity and discipline. To be a Greek was to be educated, and all education was Homer.’ (Soames, The World Philosophy Made, p.2; Burkert, Greek Religion, p.120)

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The Ontologies of Technology

Richard Lindner, Boy With Machine, 1954

In Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s 1991 book What is Philosophy?, the writers make the argument that philosophers are things of their time, creators of concepts through which the world can be interpreted. Philosophy, juxtaposed alongside science and art, provides the fundamental constructs that those disciplines require as a kind of prima terra, before any art can be made, or any science can be done. Philosophers, then, are in the business of creating ontologies.

This is of course a rejection of truth, at least in the absolute sense of the word. Richard Rorty distinguished between the concepts that ‘the truth is out there’ versus ‘the world is out there’. This goes all the way back to Wittgenstein and language, and the relations between the subject and the world: truth can only exist with language; and language can only exist with a subject. Therefore truth can’t exist ‘out there’, only the world can be out there – with its phenomenona (Husserl) and forms (Plato) and things-in-themselves (Kant).

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