Greetings from the Southern hemisphere! I have now arrived in South Africa to take up a position as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Johannesburg. I haven’t met most of my colleagues yet, and I’m off to New York for some speaking events next week (see below), but I’m very much looking forward to being part of an academic community again. I’ve spent far too long in the wilderness. There is a lot I want to do in the year (or more) that I’m going to be here: from just generally getting my life in order and building up some positive habits, to teaching myself some more abstract mathematics and concrete applications thereof. However, my main focus is to convert as much of the unpublished work I’ve done over the last decade into things that can be published in journals and thereby converted into academic experience points. For better or worse, I’m on the professional equivalent of a dungeon crawl. At least I’ve got some fellow adventurers to come researching with me, and who is to say there won’t be some interesting loot to find along the way?
There’s a lot I could say about the past few years. They haven’t been unproductive exactly, but they’ve certainly not been as productive as they could have been, for various reasons. Moreover, the work that I have produced hasn’t always been disseminated well, or, where it has, been very conducive to my career. The writing and speaking I’ve done doesn’t look all that good on my CV, no matter how proud I might be of it, and the lecturing and teaching I’ve done doesn’t seem to count as genuine teaching experience, no matter what I or my students might have gotten out of it. This might sound like a complaint, and it’s hard not to make it sound like one, but I’m really just trying to extract some lessons about how I should approach my research going forward. I’ve gotten an opportunity to continue doing academic work, and that’s an opportunity a lot of other people have deserved and not received. The least I can do is not squander it. The difficult question is this: how should I reconcile my sometimes excessive philosophical curiosity with the often incurious imperatives of research assessment?
I don’t have a complete answer to that question, but I do have a few working hypotheses and a few hard constraints. On the latter account, there are some things I’m working on that I have no idea how or where to submit them in order to maximise my return on investment, but which are simply too significant in my view to abandon. They’ll have to take a back seat to some other things maybe, but they’re not going away. On the former account, I’m pretty sure that stopping myself from blogging, far from channelling my energies into more bankable kinds of writing, made me less productive overall. There’s a direct parallel here with reading fiction. For a long time I couldn’t read fiction because I felt guilty that I wasn’t using the time ‘more productively’ to read philosophy. This didn’t mean that time I spent not reading fiction was time I actually spent reading philosophy, just time that was all too often wasted in less interesting pursuits. I’ve met other academics who’ve gotten stuck in the same reading guilt trap, and I’m glad to say I’ve extricated myself from it, at least in part. This post is the first step in extricating myself from the writing guilt trap, which has stopped me from making use of this blog in the way I used to for some time. I won’t promise that I will be as prolific as I used to be, but I will say that I intend to get back to working through my ideas in public. Writing on this blog has been very good to me over the years, as have those who’ve been generous enough to read it. Step two will be more difficult…
Until then, let me leave you with some new material and some details about upcoming speaking events. I recently spoke at the Continental and Analytic Kantianism conference organised by Fabio Gironi at University College Dublin. The conference was easily one of the best I’ve been to, and certainly the best I’ve spoken at so far. It’s rare to get such a range of perspectives that are nevertheless focused on the same set of issues, especially when those issues involve the overlap between Sellars and Meillassoux. My talk ‘Copernicanism Without Correlationism’ was, as ever, far too long, but it managed to cover a wide range of issues and provides a primer on some of the work I’m currently doing on Kant. Thanks to Fabio, it is available below. Thanks to some technical hitches, the slides are available separately.
There is another talk I gave recently at both the Dutch Art Institute and at Goldsmiths, titled ‘Prometheanism and Rationalism’, that will be made available soon. If you’re interested, the first half of the talk is available in draft form. There are some related pieces I’ve written about Prometheanism, rationalism, and posthumanism over the last year or so, that can now be found on academia.edu.
As mentioned above, I’m heading to NYC at the end of this week. I’ll be there (or thereabouts) for two weeks, taking part in the #AGI: Accelerate General Intellect Summer residency organised by Tony Yanick and the New Centre for Research and Practice, and giving a short presentation as part of the Future of Mind conference at the New School. I might also give another talk in the second week, but the details haven’t been finalised, so watch this space. I’m looking forward to all of these events immensely, and you can see the abstracts for my talks below:
Towards Computational Kantianism (#AGI)
There are many ways to describe the purpose and significance of Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy, but it is clear that the project of transcendental psychology, or the conditions of possibility of having a mind, or being capable of thought and action, is at the core of this philosophy. The premise of this seminar is that this project is essentially the same as the program of artificial general intelligence (AGI), and that by reading Kant’s work through contemporary developments in logic, mathematics, and computer science, that we can use this work to provide important methodological and technical insights for the AGI program. The seminar will begin by considering overall methodological issues, before describing the core ideas of Kant’s transcendental psychology, explaining the key ideas required to reconstruct it, and then proceeding to relate these to contemporary ideas, focusing on Robert Harper’s notion of computational trinitarianism, and the historical developments that lead up to it and the project of Homotopy Type Theory (HoTT) that inspired it. The seminar will close by considering some more general philosophical implications of the model provided.
Suggested Reading: Immanuel Kant, ‘Introduction’, Critique of Pure Reason (https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kant/immanuel/k16p/introduction.html); Per Martin-Lof, ‘Analytic and Synthetic Judgments in Type Theory’ (http://archive-pml.github.io/martin-lof/pdfs/Martin-Lof-Analytic-and-Synthetic-Judgements-in-Type-Theory.pdf); Pei Wang, ‘Artificial General Intelligence: A Gentle Introduction’ (https://sites.google.com/site/narswang/home/agi-introduction); Robert Harper ‘The Holy Trinity’ (https://existentialtype.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/the-holy-trinity/)
General Intelligence in General Terms (FoM)
In distinguishing the program of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) from broader work in Artificial Intelligence the crucial conceptual challenge is to explain just what we mean by the ‘generality’. However, in doing so it is important to understand the level of generality that we are aiming for in this explanation: is this generality relative (e.g., human level AI) or absolute (e.g., AGI simpliciter), quantitative (e.g., more or less general) or qualitative (general or not general), abstract (independent of implementation) or concrete (dependent on implementation)? The point of this talk is to examine these issues, and on that basis to oppose a pedagogical way of thinking about general intelligence to various all too common mysterian approaches.
Finally, if you happen to be in NYC when I’m there, or in Johannesburg when I get back, please feel free to get in touch!