Articles  |    |  June 1, 2019

On the Ethics of Algorithmic Intelligence

Peer-reviewed article by Roberto Simanowski, Michel Brodmer, and Jefferson Chase.
Published in Social Research: An International Quarterly.


“Perhaps the new intelligence will worship its creators, perhaps it will keep us as pets, or perhaps it will erase us. We simply don’t know. What is certain is that if my arguments are correct we will lose control over evolution” (Gumbrecht 2018, 227). Those are the words of 21-yearold Sam Ginn, a student of computer science and comparative literature at Stanford University, who has set himself the task of inventing an artificial consciousness that understands its own existence in the world. His rather pessimistic assertion about what might result if he succeeds is contained in Weltgeist im Silicon Valley, a book by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, a professor of comparative literature at Stanford.

The Weltgeist, or world-spirit, that Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel saw embodied in 1806 by Napoleon riding through the university town of Jena, after defeating German troops, lives on 200 years later in California. The geopolitical transition from Central Europe to the American West Coast is simultaneously a change from the political to the scientific. The future no longer rests with politics or even the philosophy of Plato’s Republic. It rests with science, as in Francis Bacon’s Nova Atlantis, or more precisely, with computer science. We no longer have people like Napoleon revolutionizing their times with military campaigns or a Code civil. Instead it’s people like Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg who, every day, with very new piece of data, increasingly determine the future we’re rushing toward. [ . . . ]