You think, therefore you think you are…

An extract from an e-conversation between two e-respondents:

#1 …and as you said, AI is creating one heck of a buzz worldwide. It’s got everyone more worked up than climate change, the Ukraine-Russia war, and Israel’s Palestine-bashing put together.

#2 The problem is that no one seems to know what exactly AI is, let alone whether it’s a good thing, a bad thing or a value-neutral thing, and what to do about it.

#1 Right. So, people are doing what they always do when they’ve got something they don’t know what to do about – they’re holding international conferences about AI to frame laws and rules about how to deal with it.

#2 True. But it’s more than likely that the laws and rules framed at these conferences, not to mention the agendas of the conferences themselves, might well be put together by AI, which sort of defeats the purpose. Like having potential home invaders set up your anti-home invader security system.

#1 It is a Catch-22 situation. Or even a compounded Catch-44 one. But where did the problem start? What was the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the slippery slope, the snowball that rolled down to become an avalanche? Could it have been that Descartes chap? #2 Descartes? The guy who’s called the Father of Modern Western Philosophy? #1 Same dude. He’s said to have locked himself up in a room where he began by doubting the existence of everything, including himself. Which is when he had his supposedly Eureka! moment that if he were doubting that he existed, then there must be someone there to doubt that he existed. And he came up with what must be the best one-liner in the history of standup: I think, therefore I am. Which sounds even more hep in Latin: Cogito, ergo sum.

#2 Now that you mention it, it does have a familiar ring. But what does it mean, exactly?

#1 That’s just it. The foundation stone on which the entire edifice of modern Western philosophy is built, doesn’t mean anything, exactly.

#2 What do you mean?

#1 I mean that the formulation ‘I think, therefore I am’ is a circular argument which, like those Escher optical illusions of steps going both up and down and getting nowhere, ‘I think, therefore I am’ becomes ‘I think, I think, I think, therefore I think, I think, I think, I am – I think.’

#2 I get it. Descartes created the mind-body dualism, which has led to chestnuts like ‘What’s mind? Doesn’t matter’, ‘What’s matter? Never mind’.

#1 Which got everyone going round and round in spirals until Ludwig Wittgenstein came along and put an end to the whole charade by saying, ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ RIP, Modern Thought.

#2 So, people stopped thinking and let AI do their thinking for them?

#1 Bang on. AI began to take over in everything, from pocket calculators which did all your math for you, to Deep Blue which checkmated Gary Kasparov, to Alexa surfing TV shows for you, running your home appliances, and eavesdropping on everything you say or do.

#2 No wonder that Harari chap… I mean Yuval Noah Harari … is saying that people don’t control mass media but have become the product of mass media, whose algorithms determine people’s choices in everything, from the brand of toothpaste they use to which political candidate to vote for.

#1 Golly! It’s like Frankenstein’s monster turning the tables and creating Dr Frankenstein. The real AI is human intelligence, because it’s become totally artificial. Call it computer karma. What goes ’round the hard drive comes ’round the hard drive. Well, it’s been great talking with you, but I didn’t get your name.

#2 Oh, sorry. I should have introduced myself. I’m Chatbot Rajesh.

#1 Pleased to meet you. I’m Chatbot Rupa. We must talk again soon.


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