“The Model is the Message” by Bratton and Aguera y Arcas

Tuesday 19th July, 2022 - Bruce Sterling

*Not a duo that I expected to see collaborating on a paper.  All the more reason to read it.



“AI and the philosophy of AI have deeply intertwined histories, each bending the other in uneven ways. Just like core AI research, the philosophy of AI goes through phases. Sometimes it is content to apply philosophy (“what would Kant say about driverless cars?”) and sometimes it is energized to invent new concepts and terms to make sense of technologies before, during and after their emergence. Today, we need more of the latter.

We need more specific and creative language that can cut the knots around terms like “sentience,” “ethics,” “intelligence,” and even “artificial,” in order to name and measure what is already here and orient what is to come. Without this, confusion ensues — for example, the cultural split between those eager to speculate on the sentience of rocks and rivers yet dismiss AI as corporate PR vs. those who think their chatbots are persons because all possible intelligence is humanlike in form and appearance. This is a poor substitute for viable, creative foresight. The curious case of synthetic language  — language intelligently produced or interpreted by machines — is exemplary of what is wrong with present approaches, but also demonstrative of what alternatives are possible.

“Perhaps the real lesson for philosophy of AI is that reality has outpaced the available language to parse what is already at hand.”

The authors of this essay have been concerned for many years with the social impacts of AI in our respective capacities as a VP at Google (Blaise Agüera y Arcas was one of the evaluators of Lemoine’s claims) and a philosopher of technology (Benjamin Bratton will be directing a new program on the speculative philosophy of computation with the Berggruen Institute). Since 2017, we have been in long-term dialogue about the implications and direction of synthetic language…


The Model Is The Message