Professor Henry Abramson (Touro)

Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Wisdom: Postmodernism and the Digital Age

Were it confined to the academy, the corrosive philosophy known as Postmodernism would have little impact on the daily lives of most Americans today. With the rapidly accelerating digital revolution, however, the real-life translations of Postmodernist fantasies are increasingly dominating our everyday discourse, from politics to culture, careening away from assumptions that were widely accepted to be as authoritative as the law of gravity and taking us far into uncharted spaces where we, as a species, have never gone. On a technological level, we are confronted with a landscape of endless possibility, figuring out how to effect some major, life-altering change before we know why we should do it—or more importantly, before we know why we should not do it.

Nothing is more stark than the gap that has opened up between intelligence on the one hand, and wisdom on the other. The former used to be associated with the capability of amassing a large body of information and retrieving it as well. Speed was also of value: we used terms like “swift” or “quick-witted” to describe such people. In many ways, this function of the human mind, valued for millennia, has been replaced by computers. Although artificial, they are certainly intelligent in this limited sense, and far more so than people.

On the other hand, wisdom has never been associated with speed. On the contrary: the wise person deliberates, meditates, and responds after only exhausting not only the information that is available, but the information that might be derived from intuitive analysis. Wisdom is more about the weeding out of extraneous information than the hoarding of irrelevant data. And unlike intelligence, wisdom is becoming rarer and rarer in our times.

This lecture will discuss the implications that digital technologies such as artificial intelligence have for our postmodern society.