Wednesday, July 20, 2011

AI research and Philosophy

An AI researcher who went back for his phd in philosophy, comments on the worth of philosophy and the humanities.

Damon Horowitz is currently in-house philosopher at Google. This essay is an excerpt of a keynote address he gave in the spring at the BiblioTech conference at Stanford University.

And it became clear that the limitations of our AI systems would not be eliminated through incremental improvements. We were not, and are not, on the brink of a breakthrough that could produce systems approaching the level of human intelligence.

And, slowly, I realized that the questions I was asking were philosophical questions—about the nature of thought, the structure of language, the grounds of meaning. So if I really hoped to make major progress in AI, the best place to do this wouldn't be another AI lab. If I really wanted to build a better thinker, I should go study philosophy.

Thus, about a decade ago, I quit my technology job to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. And that was one of the best decisions I ever made.

It is a convenient truth: You go into the humanities to pursue your intellectual passion; and it just so happens, as a by-product, that you emerge as a desired commodity for industry. Such is the halo of human flourishing.

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