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Workshop | Artificial Intelligence (AI), Psychoanalysis, and the Critique of Identity

From: 2021-06-08 To:2021-06-08

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  • Thematic Line

    Modern & Contemporary Philosophy
  • Research Group

    Aesthetics, Politics & Knowledge
  • 8 June 2021 | 10h00-16h00 | Online


    Zoom link available by request: ifilosofia@letras.up.pt



    • Understanding how the notion of the unconscious is transformed by artificial intelligence (AI)
    • Reflecting on the essence of the AI project, its past, and its future


    The workshop brings together researchers and scholars in the philosophy of technology and psychoanalysis in order to open a debate on a still unexplored topic. The workshop is also open to graduate students, doctoral students, researchers, and teachers.


    Keynote speakers

    • Clemens Apprich, University of Groningen
    • Hub Zwart, Erasmus University of Rotterdam
    • Isabel Millar, The Centre for Critical Thought, University of Kent
    • Jacob Johanssen, St Mary’s University




    (Portugal time)

    10h00-10h30 | Introduction | Luca Possati

    10h30-11h00 | Hub Zwart

    11h00-11h20 | Discussion

    11h20-11h50 | Clemens Apprich

    11h50-12h20 | Discussion

    12h30-14h00 | Lunch break

    14h00-14h30 | Isabel Millar

    14h30-14h50 | Discussion

    14h50-15h20 | Jacob Johanssen

    15h20-15h50 | Discussion


    “The success in artificial intelligence (AI) would be the biggest event in human history … and perhaps the last event in the human history.” These are words of Stuart Russell, one of the most important AI scientists who identified a crucial problem of our time: the control of AI. Alan Turing also claimed, “If a machine can think, it might think more intelligently than we do, and then where should we be? … This new danger is certainly something which can give us anxiety.” Investments in AI today are huge all over the world. Research is developing at an incredibly fast pace and in an ever less controllable manner. Building a human-like AI, or super-intelligent AI, is becoming a logical possibility and even a strategic asset. For this reason, expanding the debate on AI is of great importance. The future of humanity is tied to the future of AI and how humans will be able to integrate AI systems into their world. Russell stated, “If we build machines to optimize objectives, the objectives we put into the machines have to match what we want, but we do not know how to define human objectives completely and correctly” (emphasis added)

    The aim of this workshop is to reflect on AI, starting from the second part of Russell’s last sentence. Humans put their goals in machines: this is exactly the problem. Humans want machines to do what they want. However, “we do not know how to define human objectives completely and correctly,” and we often act in ways that are contrary to our own preferences. What are human goals with respect to AI? How can we clarify them? What do we want from machines? Does an AI need to be able to recognize human unconscious dynamics so it can always act for the best of humans – that best that not even humans often know? AI is a challenge to the pure theoretical idea of rationality.

    The workshop intends to answer these questions from the point of view of psychoanalysis. Reflecting on AI means reflecting on human identity and therefore – from a psychoanalytic point of view – conceiving AI as a process of deconstruction and reconstruction of human identity. There are, generally, two ways of analyzing this ongoing process. The first is to analyze how digital technology and AI influence the behavior of human agents by defining a new form of the unconscious. The second is to analyze how AI is affected by human behavior and unconscious dynamics. In both processes, which are connected, the imagination plays a key role – that is, how humans imagine AI and the meanings they give to it. Moreover, exploring AI through the lens of psychoanalysis means restoring an ancient connection; one of the pioneers of AI, Marvin Minsky, claimed that Freud was “the first good AI theorist.”



    Image: Andrzej Nowacki, 15.01.17, relief on masonite board (2017)


    Luca M. Possati (IF-UP)
    RG Aesthetics, Politics & Knowledge (APK)
    Instituto de Filosofia da Universidade do Porto - FIL/00502
    Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT)
    U.Porto e Banco Santander - Programa Santander Universidades

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