In one of his recent articles in the Corriere dell’Innovazione Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information at the University of Oxford, explains in a clear and effective manner what he thinks philosophy must do:
Identify and analyse fundamental open problems, those that have significant consequences, in order to design more robust and convincing solutions, all in respect of the facts and logic, and to explain how we take a problem and turn it into a solution.
This concept is widely-developed in his recent book “Pensare l’infosfera. La filosofia come design concettuale” (Thinking the infosphere. Philosophy as a conceptual design).
Today, we are living in unprecedented times, in which the clear division of the online and offline worlds no longer exists: this new dimension is what Floridi calls the infosphere. Just like the biosphere is the place where all living beings form their biological life, the infosphere is the environment made up of information in which we experience our everyday lives. We move around in this environment, always connected: a new experience, in which the online and the offline worlds intertwine, and what we can define as the onlife.
In the onlife we spend our lives constantly swimming in a sea of data: we have to learn to understand how to read and select this data in order to build knowledge. This is why Floridi sees philosophy as conceptual design that offers people a map to help find their way through a myriad of different information.
This is the point where human intelligence and artificial intelligence meet. Also, on this, the philosopher has very clear ideas. As he explained in an interview to Italian magazine Innovazione:
You can cultivate intelligence. A computer can do many, very complicated, things very quickly, but it does not have the intelligence, for example, to understand when to stop doing that work. Imagine if a fire breaks out, I stop playing chess; I lose the game but save my life, whereas the computer keeps playing. This difference also causes a series of ethical, political and economic problems that affect us.
We therefore have to avoid the trap of adapting the world to technology and learn to adapt technology to suit us: this is one of the great challenges that we face.
Having made these relevant distinctions, Floridi believes that artificial intelligence can play a very important role in helping us to tackle the new challenges that we have in front of us, like pandemics:
I believe that AI can do a lot, I don’t know about predicting, but certainly in managing and mitigating crises like a new wave of this pandemic, or a future pandemic, or environmental catastrophes, all events that we know are probable. (…) AI will not be used as a panacea, but as a powerful tool – at the service of intelligence, research and human decisions – to effectively and rapidly manage enormous quantities of data and complex processes in increasingly complex scenarios.
The same vision also emerged in IBSA Foundation’s recent Forum “How Artificial Intelligence can change the pharmaceutical landscape”, where it became clear that the greatest challenge we face is that of using artificial intelligence models to understand and better organize the huge amounts of data we have at our fingertips, so that we can extract the necessary knowledge in order to make the best decisions possible.
After this exploration of the profound changes that are radically transforming our lives, the task that befalls philosophy therefore becomes even clearer (and more urgent):
New generations will take the onlife for granted, without knowing it. It is also for them, and not only for our immediate future, that we must have a better understanding of what direction we are going in and do much more, to save the planet and to save us from ourselves. Because we are shaping the hyper-historical societies of the future and we are doing this in just a few decades. It isn’t a choice, but when faced with this need, to do a good job is not only our duty, but it is also easier than repairing the mistakes of tomorrow.