PHIL 143.001 – AI and the Future of Humanity: Philosophical Issues about Technology and Human Survival

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Instructor: Samantha Wakil. This course meets MTWRF 1:15 – 2:45 p.m. via synchronous remote instruction.

What do the Terminator, Walle, HER, and VR porn have in common? They all involve advances in technology, in particular artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), that raise interesting and challenging philosophical issues. Topics and questions to be considered in this course include:

Is virtual reality an illusion or just a different kind of reality? Should we be worried about the prospects of building a superintelligent AI? How do we prevent learning algorithms from acquiring morally repugnant biases? Is the future of AI an existential threat to humanity?

Sex robots and relationships: is it permissible to fall in love with an AI system? Or take one as a lover? Does VR porn (and other forms of technology-based interactions) negatively or positively affect humans’ well-being and sociality?

Cultural and Politics: What ethical codes should guide AI like self-driving cars? Should AI be used to kill in warfare or to “predict” crime in police work? Is “data” a new form of labor, and private platforms a new form of capitalism? Does it matter?

Agency and Consciousness: Can minds and consciousness be realized by machines or computers? Are AI systems moral agents? Can they be? If they are, how do we hold them responsible? Can AI suffer ethical harms? What counts as such?

How we should act:  How should we live with intelligent minds alien to our own? Should we enhance ourselves by melding with computers? Should technological developments be regulated, if so how and to what extent? Are non-human animals and the environment impacted by these developing technologies? If so, what should we, if anything, do about it?

Students will engage these issues with the help of philosophical tools, apply these tools to case studies, and be challenged to think broadly about the role of technology in society. By the end of the course, you should be able to think more clearly, critically, and deeply about the philosophical aspects of technological innovation, AI and VR specifically. Most importantly, you will learn how to critically assess the ethical consequences of science and engineering for human populations, non-human animals, and the environment.