20 February 2023

Education, research and dissemination in the university and public debate with Claudio Mattia Serafin

The current cultural and academic debate is looking toward the future and trying to understand the transformations that young people will face in the coming decades.

A recent conference, called “Educational systems, guidance or orientation, work,” held on 2-4 February 2023 at the University of Bologna, addressed the fundamental pedagogical question of what type of education and guidance to provide to students. The conference emphasized the importance of ethical orientation in education and its structural relevance in the all-around development of young people’s social strata. Teachers and educators are asking themselves if the university institution will still meet the changing needs of today’s and tomorrow’s professionals in the near future. It is likely that the answer is yes, as the structure of the human soul will always ask new questions and seek new answers. It is inevitable and embedded in the human spirit. It may fade for a while, but it will likely return.

Firstly, the relationship between humanism and science remains an open question. Perhaps it would be best to qualify them as technical? Salvatore Satta argued that science (i.e., medical, naturalistic observations, etc.) is certain, while the law is not. Law is philosophical, speculative, and linked to an element of uncertainty, as opposed to the validity of encyclopedic knowledge, and historical, didactic data. However, technical knowledge informs the law. Technical knowledge is more than just having the right attitude and professionalism. It is a fundamental tool for facing the world and making it better. Law and social sciences have always been the driving force behind this technical and institutional approach. In this field, Luiss is a leading institution that trains experts in the sector. Recently, experts in technical knowledge are being called upon to expand the scope of their subjects. On the other hand, humanism is becoming increasingly arbitrary and messy, but those who study humanism are attracted to its critical and moral leadership, which can be alluring and difficult to manage. In conclusion, all arts and humanism are free but differ in their expression forms. Why have digital, technology, and artificial intelligence themes garnered significant attention in the public debate? These topics are great because they inform research and often lead to theoretical, concrete results. Alternatively, they can offer valuable suggestions because they are less prone to fading from memory over time.

What is so-called artificial intelligence? Digital and artificial intelligence are hot topics nowadays and they have been widely discussed in various fields, including journalism, popularization, etc. Information technology has disrupted research and sparked philosophical and scientific debates among thinkers. Some welcome this development, while others criticize it due to concerns about the artificiality and automatism of technology. It is interesting to note that human intelligence has similar limitations to artificial intelligence, which has been explored in various fields such as cybernetics, narrative, and poetic currents like cyberpunk. Some thinkers have tried to define ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI). Its term was first coined by Marvin Minsky in the 1950s and it refers to technology that simulates human behavior. Digital and AI are the latest examples of technology that has always existed (even infrastructure is technology, mechanics, etc.). Even illustrious philosophers such as Pascal and Leibnitz invented calculators and early computer prototypes. Alan Turing created a theoretical computer that could stimulate calculating activity. He also devised the Turing test, which determines whether a machine can be considered equal to a human if it’s impossible to distinguish between their responses. Many artists such as Philip Dick explores the concept of ‘the machine is equal to man’ in their work. Artificial intelligence and digital technology attempt to simulate human behavior and decision-making capacity, with the goal of resembling human will as closely as possible (i.e., the intention to achieve certain results). For example, computers are capable of producing the “combinatorial explosion” (number combinations or chess moves), which is beyond human imagination.

However, some philosophers, like Searle, object to this notion that machines possess intentionality. As AI and robots continue to evolve, with ever-more sophisticated voice software in phones and tablets, it raises the question of whether human intelligence, with its unpredictability and richness, can be reduced to a set of functions. The answer, from an ethical standpoint, is obviously no. However, Putnam argues that the human mind and software, on one hand, and the physical body and hardware, on the other, are conceptually comparable. This leads to the ironic and paradoxical question: perhaps it is the human being that is becoming outdated?

It is clear that there is an ongoing debate between philosophers regarding the idea that the human mind can be compared to a computer process. Some philosophers accept this position, while others strongly reject it. This debate has been ongoing and continues to alternate between these two positions.


Written by Claudio Mattia Serafin, University Professor.