Leaving the Mechanical Dollhouse: On Abeba Birhane's "The Impossibility of Automating Ambiguity"

Episode 127 · July 6th, 2022 · 1 hr 16 mins

About this Episode

Like Caligula declaring war on Neptune and ordering his troops to charge into the Mediterranean Sea, our technological masters are designing neural networks meant to capture the human soul in all its oceanic complexity. According to the cognitive scientist Abeba Birhane, this is a fool's errand that we undertake at our peril. In her paper "The Impossibility of Automating Ambiguity," she makes the case for the irremediable fluidity, spontaneity, and relationality of people and societies. She argues that ongoing efforts to subsume the human (and the rest of reality) in predictive algorithms is actually narrowing the human experience, as so many of us are excluded from the system while others are compelled to artificially conform to its idea of the human. Far from paving the way to a better world, the tyranny of automation threatens to cut us off from the Real, ensuring an endless perpetuation of the past with all its errors and injustices. Phil and JF discuss Birhane's essay in this episode.

Header image from via www.vpnsrus.com (cropped). Downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

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Abebe Birhane, "The Impossibility of Automating Ambiguity”
J. F. Martel, “Reality is Analog: Philosophizing with Stranger Things”
Melissa Adler, Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge
Weird Studies, Episode 75 on 2001: A Space Odyssey
Weird Studies, Episode 114 on the Wheel of Fortune
William James, American philosopher
Midjourney, AI art generator
Rhine Research Center, parapsychology lab
George Lewis, “Improvised Music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives”
Abebe Birhane, “Descartes was Wrong: A Person is a Person Through Other Persons”
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, German philosopher
J. R. R. Tolkein, “On Fairy-Stories”
Martin Buber, I and Thou