The mission of the AI Project is make advances on philosophical and foundational questions concerning artificial intelligence and virtual worlds. We hope to make progress with a multidisciplinary approach, and further research, collaboration, and exchange on these questions across disciplines at UNC.
Recent advances in artificial intelligence and augmented / virtual reality will unquestionably have a profound impact on society and the lives of individual human beings. They deserve our significant attention for that reason alone. But these technological advances will not only affect our future lives, they also promise to lead to advances on age-old philosophical questions about our minds, our languages, and even about reality itself. The progress that has been made in AI promises to shed light on what intelligence, understanding, and creativity are and why they matter. And thinking about what is real in a virtual world and how to understand virtual objects promises to lead to insights about objects and reality in general.
But philosophy does not just profit from advances in computer science, the connections go both ways. Insights from the philosophy of language and linguistics about meaning, reference, conceptual role semantics, and language understanding are very relevant for contemporary debates about language models. Debates in the philosophy of mind are important for answering questions about various AI models: whether their internal states have representational contents, whether they are rational, goal-directed agents, and whether they are or might become sentient. Debates in moral philosophy and in ethics are closely connected to debates about the moral status of present and future AI systems, about the moral significance of using AI systems in decision making, and about the impact of advanced AI on the future of humanity itself.
The AI Project hopes to make progress on these and other questions via building connections across campus and the triangle, with the goal of fruitful interactions among colleagues, including at least computer science, linguistics, and philosophy, but hopefully also from other disciplines.
Besides the issues mentioned above, which are fairly well-known, there is also the potential for new questions, ones that are not widely discussed at present, and that are not obvious from what we understand at this point about the significance of these new technologies.
The AI Project hopes to keep an open mind and to explore new questions and new connections in this area. In particular, it is not uncommon these days to discuss issues connected to AI and issues connected to virtual reality separately. But that might be a mistake, and so we hope to keep our interests broad and explore connections that might so far have been overlooked.