by Father Philip Larrey
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This is a long essay written by a priest devoted to books and what they contain. This author is a priest for the Diocese of Rose and Chair of Logic and Epistemology of the Pontifical Lateran University. He has written extensively on the impact of emerging technologies on human nature as can be seen in some of his publications. Fr. Larrey is convinced that although advanced technologies will bring transformative changes to our age, they will also bring many beneficial advantages to all of humanity.
Speculation about artificial intelligence has reached a feverous pitch over the past ten years. Never before has such a technological theme captured the attention and imagination of a generation. How many articles in the popular press deal with this subject every day? How many movies have been produced by Hollywood provoking us and scaring us about the future of machines and AI: How many specialist conferences around the world deal with this issue? How much time, energy and money are being invested in this research, not only from the tech giants but also governments? This essay takes this subject from a philosophical point.
My understanding of AI comes from a scientific understanding of how we can use it for the study of illnesses and diseases. To find a way to minimize the suffering of others is certainly a worthy endeavor. The scientist I know have done so and continue to find even newer and more effective ways of deminimizing suffering and pain. This essay by Father Larrey contains reflections on the philosophical implications of AI. He recalls the time that the prominent Thomist philosopher, Ralph McInerny told him at the Pontifical LateranUniversity told him: “If you think that you can do philosophy without presupposings, try it”. For that reason it is important to state at the outside that these following reflections in the essay come from an Aristotelian Thomistic point of view. The reason they author chose a philosophical framework is because his own philosophical framework was formed by Aristotle and Aquinas at the Pontifical GregorianUniversity so Father Larrey wrote from this framework.
Aristotle and Aquinas provide an epistemological basis for metaphysical realism. Although such an approach is quite problematic in philosophical terms, it represents a choice both useful a pragmatic. Realism has been under fire from many philosophers since the beginning of philosophy itself, but that does not mean that it does not accurately portray the relationship between human thought and the reality of the external world. Again, the choice of the Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view is a motivated one: it frames both an ontology and an epistemology which ground a metaphysical realism.
The framework proposed helps to explain, describe and distinguish the difference between human intelligence and that which AI is doing. If describing human intelligence in terms of what AI is doing then it is easy to conclude that machines are intelligent, that the learn, and they might become conscious just like humans. Bit that misses the point. Aristotle and Aquinas describe human intelligence within a systematic framework which has survived the test of time. Is it possible to reach into their anthropology, their ontology and their epistemology in order to shed light on the nature and meaning of AI? The reflections throughout the essay attempt to give credence to the assertion.