Artificial intelligence’s vast applications demonstrate varying and even contradicting goals. Some believe that the goal of AI is simply expert systems that support and enhance specific human endeavors like targeted ads on social media sites, while some think that AI is all about replicating the human brain in machines, like Amazon’s AI-powered device, Alexa.
In short, this recent technological revolution lacks an overarching mission. However, I believe that Martin Heidegger unknowingly defined the mission of AI in his theories about the drive behind advancements in technology.
Martin Heidegger is a 20th Century philosopher who is known for his original thinking in existentialism, phenomenology and hermeneutics, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In his later philosophy, Heidegger catalogs the history of Western Civilization into different epochs, where people in each epoch embody drastically different worldviews. In Heidegger’s book, “The Questions Concerning Technology,” he coins our current epoch the “Age of Technology” wherein the “essence of technology” drives how people see the world.
By “essence of technology,” Heidegger contends that the current advancements in technology are not merely driven by making science into a better tool, but at the core, are about reshaping everything into a resource. Heidegger terms this final mission or destiny of everything as “standing reserves,” towards which we arrange things in a way where they can easily and efficiently be deployed into utility.
A commonplace example is that people see skills and talents as a resource. For instance, when we describe our life and its meaning, many people use the phrase “make the most of your potential.” In essence, take what has been given to you and use it to its maximum capabilities. Those who do not cultivate or make use of their given “potential” talents or skills have essentially wasted their inherited resources. The way we view human function illustrates how we buy into the worldview of seeing all things as a standing reserve for future use.
Heidegger’s understanding of the current age is helpful in grasping the drive behind our recent effort to recreate human intelligence in machines. He contends that the essence of current advancements in technology is ultimately about converting everything into standing reserves — that is the true drive behind our technological progress.
A way in which Heidegger’s theories came to fruition is through the Siri feature in Apple’s iPhones and iPads. Supported by Apple’s AI engines, Siri demonstrates how AI powers voice recognition to “understand” and “respond” to our verbal cues. Basically, AI acts as man’s attempt to turn intelligence into a resource.
Presciently, Heidegger’s theory articulates the drive behind AI. Now we have a choice to continue or reinvent the way we live. The creation of AI has sparked a lot of conversation surrounding what the future will look like. While many have embraced the integration of technology into everyday life, a few others opt to live a simpler lifestyle.
In accordance with Becoming Minimalist, this minimalist revolution is an example of people living consciously and not being influenced by the essence of technology. People realize what things they absolutely need to live and what items they can make do without.
Will this epoch remain the age of technology or will we decide to instead rely on our own human intuition?