New technologies like Artificial Intelligence bring new perceptions, new practices and new understandings.
Stefan Brunnhuber, the head of an initiative of the World academy of Art and Science, questions whether AI is just another trend, or whether it will change how humans are able to generate information, knowledge, even wisdom, like we never experienced before.
Visit the World academy of Art and Science website: worldacademy.org
Read the original research: link.springer.com/book/9783031481123
Image Source: Adobe Stock Images / Nilanka
Hello, and welcome to ResearchPod. Thank you for listening and joining us today. In this episode, we talk about the research of Stefan Brunnhuber, Trustee of the World academy of Art and Science and Member of the Club of Rome, who aims to address the question: Is AI just another technological invention, or, will it change the rules of the game, how humans are able to generate information, knowledge, even wisdom, we never experienced before?
New technologies equal new perceptions, new practices and new understandings. As we invent new tools, we recreate and mirror ourselves in their image. This was true of the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. It was true of Newtonian mechanics, which views the world as a machine, and systems theory, which views everything as a network. And it will be true of AI, deep learning and datafication too.
In 1959, the scholar and novelist C. P. Snow wrote that, throughout modern times, academia separated knowledge in two major domains. On the one hand, there is science, which includes physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering, where the main interest is in exploring natural laws and applying them to real-life problems. On the other, there are the humanities, including disciplines such as philosophy, history, linguistics and qualitative sociology and psychology, where the main goal is to interpret the world and attain a deeper understanding of our history, cultural activities and psyche.
If we look more closely at these ‘two cultures’, we will find they essentially represent two forms of rationality. Science represents a more instrumental, quantitative way of looking at the world, involving causal links, field studies, data and experimental interventions that attempt to explore and explain the laws of nature indirectly. The humanities, meanwhile, are qualitative and language-based, and provide a more historical and context-specific view, seeking to better understand the world. Explanation and understanding are separate but interdependent and mutually complementary. Each culture requires the output of the other: science needs the critical, valuebased narratives of the humanities, and the humanities need scientific findings about natural laws and phenomena.
The wisdoms that these two cultures offer are separated from each other, with little to no interaction or mutual understanding. If a literary scholar specialising in Goethe met a scientist specialising in the theory of relativity, they would have a completely different understanding of objectivity, reality and truth. Yet, a meeting between the two cultures would mark the beginning of a very productive and creative period in human history. But they do not meet; they live in different galaxies.
At the same time, these ‘two cultures’ dissociate their knowledge from reality, producing masses of statistically significant yet also often irrelevant findings and studies. The obtained information becomes further disconnected from knowledge in other disciplines. Any further cognitive specialisation means we risk losing our understanding of the whole.
For around three decades, we have been witnessing the emergence of a new discipline that has the potential not just to build on the two cultures and their intrinsic forms of rationality, but to transcend their complementarities. It could act as a new general theory that triggers a scientific revolution, enabling humankind to shift our collective consciousness, attain even greater knowledge and better understand the world and ourselves. Knowledge, information and understanding unlike anything we have previously experienced in the evolution of humanity.
In fact, this development began on the 12th of March 1989 with the invention of the World Wide Web, which would go on to revolutionise our communication. Tim Berners-Lee proposed a decentralised, universally linked information system, including the first browser, the first server and the first web. Whereas radio provided us with a unidirectional form of information and the telephone a bidirectional one, the World Wide Web created a multidirectional network effect in communication. AI, deep learning, big data correlations and social media are spin-offs of that foundational invention.
In the process of digitalisation, the world comes to be seen in terms of 0s and 1s, with correlations rather than causal links being key. Consequently, the boundaries between the biological and physical world around us, the economic and social spheres, psychological qualities and cultural practices on the one hand and the digital world on the other are further blurring, which will lead either to dissociation or further integration.
If these new technologies are implemented in the right way, taking account of all side effects and spillovers, AI and deep learning will integrate our knowledge rather than dissociating or fragmenting it. This new general technology would then be more like Prometheus, providing us with new tools, rather than Pandora’s box, doing more harm than good. Let’s take some examples:
AI supported e-governance would allow better traffic flow analysis and improve health care services, enhance infrastructure monitoring, public task automation or cyber attack prevention.
AI in Finance can identify fraud and illicit transactions.
In medicine, imaging procedures for tumor diagnosis can be enhanced, and AI supported 3-D protein folding would allow the discovery of new antibiotics.
The traditional Hubble telescope has identified 100 billion galaxies, but Deep learning has already shown that 90% of galaxies were not visible until now.
We can access Data basis for texts and literature in dozen of languages, that would require 500 years of reading time by a mouse click. There is a larger corpus of cuneiform works than all ancient Greek and Roman literature taken together. Rather than the manual translation from the small handful of people who can read it, taking hundreds of years, AI can provide a tool to enhance and accelerate that process.
Although all these findings, applications, consequences and potentialities are still incomplete, they are leading to a deeper understanding of the world within and around us – one we could never achieve assisted solely by pencils and Petri dishes. The new technologies are shedding light on part of our reality we did not even know existed in the first place, allowing us to draw rational conclusions we never thought we would be able to.
But each time we introduce IT coding into traditional ways of thinking, we not only double the world in a digital form, but add something that was not there before, simultaneously making the world more measurable and more meaningful. This additional information and knowledge feeds back into science and the humanities, but also transforms the world as a whole. More metrics simply means more quantifiable parameters, more scoring, ranking and evaluating of each other. These metrics serve not merely to mirror the world, but potentially to manipulate, augment, and ultimately to generate completely new measures and meanings, new numbers and concepts, over and over again.
This new technology is, in part, simulating a human brain, but it is not itself a brain. Just as mechanical diggers or hammers simulate human muscle power, but are not human muscles. This new culture will eventually shift our consciousness, our society and the world as a whole from a binary of two incommensurable cultures towards a trinary with a third culture that will eventually integrate and enlarge the knowledge of the other two.
In this sense, digitalisation adds a third dimension to explaining and understanding our world and ourselves. There are four aspects that differentiate this new scientific revolution from earlier ones, such as the telescope, the printing press, and the steam engine. We can call them the differentia specifica of AI and datafication:
First, datafication allows us to digitally multiply the world. For the first time in human history, we can literally generate a parallel world that is able to influence, enhance and nudge our analogue world.
Second, big data correlations provide scientific evidence of the interconnectedness and interdependency of everything, thereby supporting narratives of the world as a web without a weaver.
Third, in contrast to previous paradigm shifts, AI and datafication have a built-in capacity to self-enhance and self-improve, enabling them to learn far faster than any human mind. We thereby not only increase automation, where existing information is replicated, but also autonomisation, where technologies have an intrinsic learning curve. The mind is in the machine.
And finally, the new digital technologies can surpass the human mental capacity to explain and understand the world in terms of both speed and scale (from nano to cosmic).
That is the fundamental core of the third culture and the new, upcoming scientific revolution.
The Renaissance of the 15th century was characterised by a critical reception of the ancient Greek and Arabic tradition. This period saw both an unprecedented blossoming of human creativity and prosperity, but also led to further fragmentation of our knowledge.
The second, human-centred Renaissance we are witnessing now will not be a repeat of the first, but will rather seek to integrate our fractured knowledge and wisdom about the world and contribute to a larger, more holistic consciousness than any previous human era.
This new technology has the potential to support advances in the traditional two cultures, which will further loop back into society, doubling the world in digital form and eventually deepening and expanding our individual and collective consciousness so that we can see more and do better. Research and development are destined to become truly trans-disciplinary, paving the way for a form of integrated knowledge that we could call ‘one science’.
As long as we are operating with two cultures, we will remain within a dichotomy between understanding and explanation, between words and data. In order to overcome that dichotomy, we have to introduce a third agent, the third culture. One that is mirroring and doubling, self-improving and demonstrating the foundational correlations of the interconnectedness of all things and living beings, is set not to replace but to integrate the humanities and science through digitalisation.
That will eventually give rise to new forms of consciousness based not on biochemical signals, but on copper wires and lithium chips. The new technologies will reveal the interconnectedness, vulnerability, interdependency and boundaries of the world, and fundamentally redefine the human species’ position in the twenty-first century: not as a conductor leading the orchestra, not in the centre of the universe or on top of a evolutionary ladder, but rather as a marginal string player, able to resonate with all living beings. And these new machine intelligences will change the world and force us to realise: The Ghost is in the machine and we are no longer alone.
To read more about the initiatives of the World Academy of Art and Sciences, visit their website, linked to in this episodes‘ description, or read the book ‘Financing Our Anthropocene’ or their latest release ”The Third culture- How AI is changing our knowledge, consciousness and our society as whole” available online and through all good book stores.
That’s all for this episode – thanks for listening, and stay subscribed to Researchpod for more of the latest science.
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