In the Mirror

What can we learn from AI about being human?

A three-part course with Chris Fields & special guest Eric Dietrich


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“Philosophy and AI have had a difficult relationship from the beginning… We trace these developments, and speculate about the future.”
– Chris Fields (from AI Wars)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now part of the daily news, with prominent public figures issuing dire statements about existential risk and governments scrambling to devise regulations. Lost in this conversation — which sometimes seems designed to induce fear and panic — is any discussion of what AI systems do and how they do it. The goal of this course is to step back from the headlines, reflect on AI as a human construct, and ask what it can teach us about ourselves. Chris suggests that by viewing AI as both a technological experiment and a cultural phenomenon, we can indeed learn a lot.

The first session, AI, language, and meaning, examines Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT and their analogs in other domains. These systems naturally raise questions about the use and meaning of language, and of other human productions such as art and music. Such questions have been asked by philosophers for millenia, and by scientists for over a century. What does AI teach us about these questions?

The second session, Myths of human-like AI considers the history of “artificial humans” in mythic literature, and the relation of these myths to the ideas of “human-like” AI systems in academic research and in popular culture. Is human-like AI desirable? Is it feasible? What does the power of this myth — both attractive and scary — tell us about being human?

The final session, AI as a cultural artifact is a conversation with Eric Dietrich. We ask what it would be like to treat AI not as a threat or anything alien, but rather as yet another human cultural artifact that reveals something about who and what we are.

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Chris Fields

Chris Fields, PhD is a Researcher at Tufts University, USA and a private consultant.  His current work focuses on quantum-information based models of multi-observer communication, shared system identification, and consistent embedding of identified systems in a spatial geometry.  These models have allowed reformulating the Free Energy Principle (FEP) of Karl Friston and colleagues in the language of quantum information theory and the systematic exploration of qualitative differences between classical and quantum formulations of the FEP.  Fields has been active in the philosophy and foundations of AI, as well as AI applications, since the mid-1980s, and recently co-authored Great Philosophical Objections to Artificial Intelligence: The History and Legacy of the AI Wars (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021).

Eric Dietrich

Eric Dietrich is professor of philosophy at Binghamton University and the founding editor and current editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence. He is the author of numerous papers and several books focusing on cognitive science, consciousness, artificial intelligence, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.  He is also the author of “There is no progress in philosophy”.

In the Mirror

A three-part course with Chris Fields
& special guest Eric Dietrich

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