Journal article Open Access

The new ghosts in the machine: 'Pragmatist' AI and the conceptual perils of anthropomorphic description

Brooker, Phillip; Dutton, William; Mair, Michael


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    <subfield code="a">&lt;p&gt;Algorithms are becoming interwoven with increasingly many aspects of our affairs.&lt;br&gt;
That process of interweaving has brought with it a language laden with anthropomorphic&lt;br&gt;
descriptions of the technologies involved, which variously hint at &amp;lsquo;humanesque&amp;rsquo;&lt;br&gt;
or &amp;lsquo;conscious-like&amp;rsquo; activity occurring within or behind their operations. Indeed,&lt;br&gt;
the term &amp;lsquo;Artificial Intelligence&amp;rsquo; (AI) seems to refer to a quality that is thought&lt;br&gt;
to be largely human; namely, intelligence. However, while anthropomorphic descriptions&lt;br&gt;
may be useful or harmless, when taken at face value they generate a false&lt;br&gt;
picture of algorithms as well as of our own thinking and reasoning practices by&lt;br&gt;
treating them as analogues of one another rather than as distinct. Focusing on the&lt;br&gt;
algorithm, and what it is misleadingly said to be and to be like, in this article we&lt;br&gt;
outline three &amp;lsquo;perspicuous representations&amp;rsquo; (Wittgenstein 1953: &amp;sect;122) of AI in specific&lt;br&gt;
contexts. Drawing on Wes Sharrock&amp;rsquo;s ethnomethodological and Wittgensteinian&lt;br&gt;
work, our aim is to demonstrate that by attending to the particular, occasioned&lt;br&gt;
and locally accountable, not to say highly specified, usages of language that accompany&lt;br&gt;
the &amp;lsquo;New AI&amp;rsquo; in particular, we can avoid being haunted by the new task performing&lt;br&gt;
ghosts currently being discursively conjured up in our algorithmic machines.&lt;/p&gt;</subfield>
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