Is AI as smart as they say it is? Philosophy has something to say

Picture of Pablo Gasull

The world has surrendered to the wonders of ChatGPT. It has blurred the line between fiction and reality and some believe that nothing will ever be the same again; We said that machines would never be creative, but if you ask ChatGPT to write a summary of El Quijote de la Mancha in Bad Bunny version, it can do it. We thought they wouldn’t have strategic capacity, but if you ask them to develop a business plan, they do; We also thought that human analysis was going to be indispensable, for example, in the financial sector, but if you set out to create a profitable portfolio, it does; Not only that, according to, it appears that ChatGPT’s selection is more profitable than the UK’s leading investment funds;

ChatGPT has broken down human horizons and the hype it has generated has been felt in the stock market but also in our everyday conversations; Although it is not an AI, as it is still blatantly failing in other areas – for example, basic computing – this platform represents a turning point in the 21st century and we may be witnessing one of the most important innovations in history.

In the field of communication, professionals are – let’s face it – a little alarmed. ChatGPT knows how to write formal speeches, has much more information to write opinion pieces – on any topic – and identifies a company’s key messages in the blink of an eye; The message from the industry was unanimous: “Calm down, ChatGPT will become an indispensable tool for consultants, but never a substitute”; Yes, well, perhaps fewer consultants are needed to accomplish the same task, and, in the next few years, a much more sophisticated platform than ChatGPT may emerge; It may be, and it is a guess, that this complacent and politically correct discourse implies a very different reality: that AI, still in development, is warming up on the bench ready to take the field to defeat and beat the communication consultants;

Some technologies based on deep learning have far surpassed us: in mathematics and statistics, in medicine – there are operations that can only be carried out by a robot because of the precision they require; in product development and manufacturing – you cannot produce an IPhone by hand – or even in safety in the automotive sector; Some AI experts believe that it is only a matter of time and that the natural trend is that it will gradually overtake us in all areas of human intelligence; However, although it will sweep us away in certain areas and improve human life in many respects, I suspect that some human realities will be insurmountable; I recognise that my knowledge of AI is still limited, but I believe that philosophy has a lot to say about it; Rather than asserting, I would like to raise several questions about the differences I see between AI and human intelligence. Among them, I would like to highlight the following: subjectivity, sensibility, rationality and temporality.

The AI is beating us, but does it experience victory?

Let’s go to the first one; On 11 May 1997, the Deep Blue computer beat world chess champion Garri Kasparov; an event that for some marked a before and after and evidenced a change of era. However, we have to wonder whether Deep Blue actually won the game, because, although technically it did, it did not have the experience of winning, it did not experience that sense of pride and satisfaction that comes with victory; What Deep Blue did not have was subjectivity, inner world and personal experiences; I think this will be an insurmountable difference, which, moreover, we can see very clearly in the reading; AI will be able to process text and ‘read’ much faster than we can; It will be able, for example, to accumulate all the philosophy books in the world, something unthinkable for a human being, given his limitations and time constraints; But the really important question is: what does AI mean by reading? Is it subjective? Is word processing the same as reading? Is reading the same as enjoying reading? Because reading and understanding is not, as we tend to think nowadays, about accumulating knowledge, but about assimilating and apprehending, i.e. making it one’s own; Reading a summary of Don Quixote de la Mancha is not the same as reading the whole book, because I may know who the characters are or what the story is about, but until I read it I am not able to follow the adventures of the nobleman, to dream what he dreamt and to fight, as he did, against the injustices of the world; Until I read it and live it, I will not be able to understand what is hidden in one of the most important classics of world literature; This experience is not a metaphor, but a very human reality; When we understand a character’s dilemmas, we also understand ourselves better and are able to see similarities between their problems and my own; Will AI be able to experience this?

A few years ago I was at a colloquium on reading; One university student asked why some teachers insist on reading and reading books when everything is already on the internet; As if human wisdom were a search and check of information, a management and processing of data! Wisdom, rather than accumulation, is assimilation; AI could do a lot of things, but it does not live and, in particular, it does not live organically;

Can an AI be sentient?

Secondly, sensitivity to the world; The word intelligence comes from the Latin verbintellegere, that means to read or know how to look between the lines; A person is intelligent when he or she is sensitive, gets to the bottom of an issue and brings it clearly to the surface; To cultivate intelligence, we need to get out of the screen and rediscover reality; They say the new Apple Vision Pro will revolutionise the way we look at the world, but it’s not about looking closer or looking further away, it’s about knowing how to look and knowing what to look at. As the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty said, “it is true that the world is what we see, and yet we must learn to see it”; This is the great challenge of philosophy, to explain and show the obvious, to squeeze out the depths of everyday life; AI will have a more accurate and millimetric eye on the world, but will see it as a place without obstacles and errors and subject to calculation, i.e. as a place that always responds without contingency; Its world is digital, not organic; The human being is an unknown – no one knows why we are here and why we are able to ask ourselves about the meaning of our lives; Can AI sense this uncertainty, this smallness that we experience in the face of the mystery that we are?

Sensitivity to the world can also be seen in communication; When we neglect language, when we do not take words like ‘democracy’, ‘justice’ or ‘respect’ seriously and use them lightly, we impoverish culture, resulting in a less free and understanding society; Philosophy, especially throughout the 20th century, reflected on how language influences reality; Aggressive and violent language is a sign of an aggressive and violent society; simplistic or populist language reflects a less democratic society; Therefore, without the care of the word there is no humanity, and the great civilisations were aware of the need to cultivate letters; George Orwell, in his famous work 1984, he already intuited that totalitarianism begins with a control of language and a falsification of the past. In short, language has a fundamental ethical dimension by which we guard and preserve our society; So I ask the AI of the future: will it be aware of ethics, of what it means to care for and protect others? If you understand language as processing, you will be aware that democracy is a concept that requires commitment and virtue?

Can AI have desires?

Thirdly, rationality; Today, rationality has been reduced to logical rationality; Influenced by modern philosophy, we see reason as a cold and calculating faculty that has nothing to do with feelings and emotions; However, Aristotle already intuited that all human beings desire to know, so that desire and intelligence are inseparable: “all choice is either desirous intelligence or intelligent desire, and this kind of principle is man”; Other questions I have about AI: Will it have desires or a will of its own? Will it be curious to know? Aristotle also said that philosophy begins with our capacity to be amazed by the world; Will AI amaze the world? Will it be amazed, as we are, at itself?

In relation to desire, there are two fundamental human principles that Greek philosophers have pondered for centuries: on the one hand, every human being wants to be happy; on the other hand, every human being longs for a world without injustice, violence and pain; Will AI also have these desires? In this sense, the structure of human desire is very particular: what we desire often does not correspond to reality, and many of the desires we have require time, commitment and trust; For example, I would like to buy a house in the mountains, but to do so I will have to work and save for years and be true to my desire; The vast majority of wishes are expected; This obviousness, which is natural to us, becomes a problem for artificial intelligence; Before explaining why, it should be noted that technology is not neutral; We have socially accepted that technology is not good or bad, but neutral, and that it all depends on how we use it; However, I believe that this vision is a fallacy, because technology establishes a very specific way of expressing ourselves and relating to the world, a semantics that includes concepts associated with each other: efficiency, speed, accuracy, prediction; When we say that the internet is slow, we say that it doesn’t work, precisely because we associate technology with instantaneity and speed; Returning to the question of waiting, the philosopher Gregorio Luri asks himself at the end of an epilogue written for the book “The time given away. An essay on waiting”by Andrea Köhler, how AI will think about waiting in the future; Can AI be patient? Will it have frustrations between its desires and its reality?

Will AI be able to age?

The value of waiting indicates a basic human trait: the awareness of temporality. How will AI perceive time? As Luri asks, “can she be truly intelligent if she does not feel touched by death, and if she does feel touched by death, where will she find consolation? Does the AI know what old age, the passage of time, is? Ultimately, the awareness of death reflects our vulnerability and finitude; Will AI be vulnerable?

The awareness of temporality also indicates that we are narrative beings; When we are born, for example, we break into our parents’ lives; We are genealogical beings, with a history that determines us; Will AI be aware of the narrative? And if it is not, will it really know how to communicate?

In conclusion, I have many more questions than answers; the question of AI is complex. Perhaps in the world of communication, we professionals will have to be able to identify those realities that are human, if any, to differentiate ourselves from AI and develop much more human communication; What is clear is that nobody knows what the future will bring, and this is another good question: what will AI think about the future, about its future?

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