Moral complexity at MIT
Real Education About Artificial Intelligence
Siri: what is ‘artificial intelligence’? In computer science, she says, AI can refer to any device that senses its environment and responds to reach a goal. A simple translation of A. I. as, say, ‘robotic thinking’ might have sounded hostile. But then, if she’s said: A.I. stands for the galloping advance in computing capacity beyond human sense and sensitivity, we’d have said: Siri, you’re boasting again. So what is it, really? Who’s pushing it? And why? They used to say A.I. would write music like Mozart’s, which it hasn’t. But could it do your job? Faster, better and cheaper than you do it? And is that why big science and big money seem to love A.I.? But what about those scientists who see an apocalypse in it, humanity’s last stand? Native intelligence takes on the artificial kind.
Behind what amounts to an informal news blackout, MIT is in a moral dither over AI – artificial intelligence, a giant hot potato in higher education. So we peek this hour into MIT science, philosophy, governance. Ironies abound: MIT is famous as a real-brain bee-hive in a high-IQ zip code next to Harvard, but it’s in a swivet about advanced computing that can whip human thinking in test after test. To sense the power stakes and the moral questions: all you had to see really was the parade of dubious characters in and around the dedication last week of a new billion-dollar MIT College of Computing: Henry Kissinger, the 93-year-old Vietnam warlord on stage with Tom Friedman, the New York Times salesman for the Iraq War; the finance mogul Stephen Schwarzman who’ll endow the new school and put his name on it; and lurking at MIT in the recent past, Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, a Schwarzman business partner, and by now the notorious MbS for the gruesome murder of the writer Jamal Khashoggi, a thorn in the Saudis’ side. Suddenly students are getting an introduction to politics, and the Institute is putting a shiny face on its version of things…
Professor of Anthropology at MIT and chair of the MIT faculty
Post-doctoral fellow in Systems Biology at the Harvard Medical School
Professor of Philosophy at MIT