Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence 2021

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Barry Smith

MAP, USI, Lugano, Spring 2021


Monday February 22 2021 14:30 - 17:15: Some examples of philosophical problems

What is computation?

What is a language

The Turing Test and the problem of natural language production

What is consciousness?

What is will?

Can machines have a will?


John Searle: Minds, Brains, and Programs
Jobst Landgrebe and Barry Smith: There is no Artificial General Intelligence

Tuesday February 23 2021 14:30 - 17:15: Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Questions do be addressed

What are the essential marks of human intelligence? 

What is it that researchers and engineers are trying to do when they talk of achieving ‘Artificial Intelligence’?

To what extent can AI be achieved? 

The classical psychological definitions of intelligence are:  

A. the ability to adapt to new situations (applies both to humans and to animals) 
B. a very general mental capability (possessed only by humans) that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience 

I will provide some details as to both A. and B., and show that the standard AI definition of intelligence is a version of A. formulated in mathematical terms.  I will then criticize this standard AI definition, and show why it is entirely unsuitable for use as a benchmark of success in regard to achievement of human-level intelligence on the part of the machine. I will conclude by providing the sketch of an argument to the effect that human-level intelligence can be achieved at best only along certain narrow paths, for example mastering games such as Go or Chess with well-defined rules.

Subsidiary questions

What do intelligence tests measure? See video here

Functions of the human brain


Shane Legg and Marcus Hutter: Universal Intelligence: A Definition of Machine Intelligence
Jobst Landgrebe and Barry Smith: Making AI Meaningful Again
Linda S. Gottfredson. Mainstream Science on Intelligence. In: Intelligence 24 (1997), pp. 13–23.

Wednesday February 24 2021 14:30 - 16:00 The Impossibility of Digital Immortality

Dialogue, Transhumanism and Identity: Can we download the contents of our brains onto a computer and become immortal?

Why you cannot exist outside your body


Martine Rothblatt: Mind is Deeper Than Matter TO BE SUPPLIED AT USI SITE
Scott Adams: We are living in a simulation
AI and The Matrix

Friday February 26 2021 15:30 - 17:00 Why Not Robot Police? Dialogue With Jobst Landgrebe

Jobst Landgrebe is the founder and CEO of Cognotekt, GmBH, an AI company based in Cologne specialised in the design and implementation of holistic AI solutions. He has 16 years experience in AI field, 8 years as a management consultant and software architect. He has also worked as a physician and mathematician.
What is the basis of ethics as applied to humans?
Value ethics
On what basis should we build an AI ethics?
On why AI ethics is (a) impossible, (b) unnecessary (with Jobst Landgrebe)


Moor: Four kinds of ethical robots
Jobst Landgrebe and Barry Smith: No AI Ethics TO BE SUPPLIED AT USI SITE

Wednesday May 12 2021 14:30 - 17.15 Brain Emulation

Can we build an AI by emulating the brain?

Chalmers on Brain Emulation

Chalmers on Artificial Evolution


David J. Chalmers: The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis
David J. Chalmers: The Singularity: A Reply to Commentators

Friday May 14 2021 09:30 - 12:15: AI and Ontology

Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) (ISO/IEC 21838-2)
Applications of BFO in AI
Upper Level Ontologies
Making AI Meaningful Again

Monday May 17 2021 14:30 - 17:15 AI and the Ontology of Complex Systems

AI is a family of algorithms to automate repetitive events
AI is not artificial intelligence; it is a branch of mathematics in which the attempt is made to use the Turing machine to its limits by using gigantically large amounts of data
What sorts of problems can AI not solve?
Paper:There is no general AI

Student presentations

Tuesday May 18 2021 14:30 - 17:15 Language+

An Ontology of Terrorism
Sentiment Analysis
An Ontology of Language

Wednesday May 19 2021 14:30 - 17:15 Emotions and Diseases

Basic Emotions
Aesthetic Emotions
Disease Ontology
Infectious Disease Ontology
COVID-19 Ontology

Student presentations: TBD

Thursday May 20 2021 13:30 - 16:15 Second Dialogue with Jobst Landgrebe

1. AI and the Mathematics of Complex Systems
2. AI and the Ontology of Power


Friday-Saturday May 21-22: SNF Conference on Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence

Course Description

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the subfield of Computer Science devoted to developing programs that enable computers to display behavior that can (broadly) be characterised as intelligent. On the strong version, the ultimate goal of AI is to create an artificial system that is as intelligent as a human being. Recent striking successes such as AlphaGo have convinced many not only that this objective is obtainable but also that in a not too distant future machines will become even more intelligent than human beings.

The actual and possible developments in AI open up a series of striking questions such as:

  • Can a computer have a conscious mind?
  • Can it have desires and emotions?
  • Would machine intelligence, if there is such a thing, be something comparable to human intelligence or something quite different?

In addition, these developments make it possible for us to consider a series of philosophical questions in a new light, including:

  • What is personal identity? Could a machine have something like a personal identity? Would I really survive if the contents of my brain were uploaded to the cloud?
  • What is it for a human to behave in an ethical manner? (Could there be something like machine ethics? Could machines used in fighting wars be programmed to behave ethically?)
  • What is a meaningful life? If routine, meaningless work in the future is performed entirely by machines, will this make possible new sorts of meaningful lives on the part of humans?

After introducing the relevant ideas and tools from both AI and philosophy, all the aforementioned questions will be thoroughly addressed in class discussions following lectures by Drs Facchini and Smith and presentations of relevant papers by the students.

Further Background Reading

Jordan Peterson's Essay Writing Guide
Gerald J. Erion and Barry Smith, “In Defense of Truth: Skepticism, Morality, and The Matrix”, in W. Irwin (ed.), Philosophy and The Matrix, La Salle and Chicago: Open Court, 2002, 16–27.
Max More and Natasha Vita-More (Eds.), The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.