Could you use AI to understand philosophy?
Philosophers have been asking me if we can use AI to help understand philosophy (there’s even grant money available). For example, could you use AI to determine the degree to which the ideas of Hegel are present in Strawson?
I did a short assessment of what was required, then asked ChatGPT for it’s response:
I am also becoming fairly certain ChatGPT does not have the capability we are talking about. If the text in both sources is identical, even MS Word could compare them. If it is a conceptual comparision, I don’t think ChatGPT has the knowledge. It was trained to converse, but that’s all it was trained for. What will need to happen now is for an AI to be trained in philosophy. Which means taking every philosophical text we have, manually annotating every term, sentence and paragraph for what it is saying, what it means, what its philosophical significance is, who debates it (how, why and where). It means agreeing the meaning of every philosophical term, or teaching the AI all the alternative interpretations in detail. I can imagine the debates over just the annotation will repeat every philosophical debate we’ve ever had all over again. So it will have to learn all the alternatives. Maybe one day, but it will be a massive undertaking. It may actually be impossible and raises a nice philosophical question – can we codify humanity’s understanding of philosophy at all, even catering for all the various interpretations? Is it a fully definable field of knowledge or is a certain “fuzziness” an essential property of philosophy? Because an AI needs to understand it both as a human activity as well as a body of thought.
The statements you provided contain a mix of accurate and speculative assertions. Let’s analyze them one by one:
- “If the text in both sources is identical, even MS Word could compare them.”
This statement is generally accurate. If the texts in two sources are identical, any text comparison tool, including MS Word, can detect the matching content. It’s a straightforward task of comparing character sequences.
- “If it is a conceptual comparison, I don’t think ChatGPT has the knowledge. It was trained to converse, but that’s all it was trained for.”
This statement is partially accurate. ChatGPT is a language model trained to generate human-like responses based on patterns in the data it was trained on. While it can provide information and engage in discussions about a wide range of topics, including philosophy, it does not possess an inherent understanding of concepts. It lacks personal experiences and consciousness, which limits its ability to grasp complex philosophical nuances in the same way humans do.
- “What will need to happen now is for an AI to be trained in philosophy.”
This statement is speculative but reflects a plausible idea. Developing an AI specifically trained in philosophy could potentially enhance its ability to engage in philosophical discussions and provide more nuanced insights. However, training an AI to understand philosophy comprehensively and accurately would be an immense undertaking, requiring extensive annotation and interpretation of philosophical texts.
- “It means agreeing on the meaning of every philosophical term or teaching the AI all the alternative interpretations in detail.”
This statement highlights a significant challenge in training an AI in philosophy. Philosophical terms often carry multiple interpretations and can be subject to ongoing debates. Reaching a consensus on the meaning of every term would be difficult, if not impossible. However, teaching an AI about the alternative interpretations could help it navigate the complexities of philosophical discourse and provide a broader perspective.
- “Can we codify humanity’s understanding of philosophy at all, even catering for all the various interpretations? Is it a fully definable field of knowledge, or is a certain ‘fuzziness’ an essential property of philosophy?”
These questions delve into the fundamental nature of philosophy itself. Philosophy often deals with abstract concepts, subjective interpretations, and unresolved debates. While efforts can be made to codify philosophical knowledge, the inherent complexity and diversity of perspectives in philosophy may make it challenging to fully capture and define. The openness to different interpretations and the existence of philosophical debates contribute to the ongoing nature of philosophical inquiry.
In summary, while an AI trained in philosophy could potentially offer insights and engage in discussions on the subject, capturing the full depth and complexity of philosophy poses significant challenges. The nature of philosophical concepts and ongoing debates necessitates a nuanced understanding that may extend beyond the capabilities of current AI systems.