NPR’s “Why We Need Philosophers Engaged in Public Life” Relates More to Technology Than We May Realize

by Todd J Fisher, Tuesday, March 21, 2023

NPR’s Tania Lombrozo reminds us of an important truth: we need philosophers to engage in public life. Not the ancient philosopher type, of course – but real, current-day participants in society, fit to evaluate and analyze our current world to provide a perspective on morality in the context of our current social climate. 

While this 2015 article has aged a bit in years, its content is no less true now than it was eight years ago: the news remains wrought with horrifying actions, prompting a political discourse that can feel devoid of any moral compass. The participation of philosophers in society could provide that moral guidance that feels so lacking. 

Okay, so what does that have to do with technology?

The advancement of technology is changing our world at such a rapid rate, that there is a more critical need than ever to pause and contemplate the impact of such change. ChatGPT, for example, introduces the existence of words, phrases, and thoughts without a human author behind them. (Last week, we highlighted Elizabeth Weil’s NYMag piece about this topic. If you haven't read it, we encourage you to do so!) 

That dynamic - the authorless words situation - has the capacity to change our world in ways we perhaps do not yet understand. In a critical moment of change such as this, the participation of philosophers’ perspectives provides the guidelines necessary to adapt as a culture, alongside the technology, to use it to the benefit of the good, rather than to just embrace the chaos - and perhaps danger - of innovation.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that AI and technology like ChatGPT remain safe and moral within our society, even when our social and political landscapes are confusing, as is. We agree with Tania Lombrozo when she states that the answer - or part of it - is to turn for guidance to philosophers who engage in critical thought about our nuanced, changing public world. We look to them for clarity about how we can ensure morality is woven into the fabric of our technological innovation.

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