Academic Minute Podcast

Daniel Ernst, Texas Women’s University – Understanding Artificial Versus Human Intelligence

What does a platypus have to do with artificial intelligence?

Daniel Ernst, assistant professor of English at Texas Woman’s University, explains.

Daniel Ernst is an Assistant Professor of English at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX. He researches and teaches courses in rhetoric, writing, grammar, and generative AI, and holds a PhD in English from Purdue University.

Understanding Artificial Versus Human Intelligence

Humans think in words, AI in numbers. ChatGPT is like a round of Family Feud: it responds to our questions with only the likeliest answers. Is this “intelligence”? How should we understand truth in a world where words are assigned numbers, like the points in a Family Feud survey?

We often think of science as taxonomic. But it’s not really. Scientific classification is negative and imperfect; it names by ruling out. Science says a mammal is an animal that doesn’t lay eggs. But what about the platypus?

In rhetoric this is known as litotes. Litotes is a rhetorical device in which something is affirmed by negating its opposite, like if you ask how I’m doing and I respond “not bad.” Paradoxically, this rhetorical approach often provides greater accuracy but grants less detail.

Science is the same. Frequently accurate but insufficiently detailed, scientific studies are limited to two types of findings; they either reject or fail to reject a hypothesis. This kind of knowledge is useful in a laboratory, but the real world has platypuses. Truth in the real world is more than the sum of everything it’s not.

AI is similar, for now at least. AI doesn’t name, it negates. ChatGPT looks at the world and sees only multiple choice questions, so it responds through a process of elimination. Humans, meanwhile, can fill in the blank. We respond to uncertainty not by calculating probabilities but by consulting wisdom.

Each word generated by an AI represents the rejection of an alternative; artificial intelligence is determined by its probability rather than its possibility. That’s a new world. Before it’s here, we would do well to remember that human intelligence isn’t confined only to the narrow horizon between rejecting and failing to reject hypotheses, and that our wisdom is deeper than its syntax.

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