Wittgenstein, The Private Language Argument, and Artificial Intelligence

How I Square My Criticisms of the Use and Misuse of the Term With His Positions

In my opening post on this topic I (very) briefly described Wittgenstein’s much debated private language argument as a segue into his much (more) debated theory of (word/language) meaning. To simplify greatly Wittgenstein says that words are given meaning by how they are used in the language. Specifically how they are used by the ‘community’ of speakers of that language and their ‘customs’. That post is linked below for your reading pleasure.

I showed how if one ascribes to that theory of meaning (meaning as use) my ongoing criticisms of the use of the term artificial intelligence by writers and commentators of all stripes and professions appear to be baseless. After all, AI means whatever that community says/believes/thinks it means as reflected in how they use it, and it is clear they have given it a very different meaning from it’s original one when the term was first conceived of in the 1950’s. Moreover, even though when the vast majority of persons in the world hear the term ‘artificial intelligence’, they think of a machine/computer with human level or ‘greater’ intelligence, this is of no consequence as they are not part of the community of users of the term. They are not part of the community that uses the term every day or most days as part of their normal course of daily life and work, as part of their ‘customs’.

Far be it from me to criticize the great LW, and I do not intend to here. In fact, I happen to ascribe to his theory of meaning and believe it to be the best, most well developed, strongly argued, and logically coherent theory of meaning yet devised by man. That said, it is not complete and even he (I think) would accept that. There are areas of philosophical interest with respect to his theory that have yet to be explored, and one of those I believe has direct bearing on this issue, and is how I continue to justify my attacks on the people who regularly use and abuse the term artificial intelligence. This has to do with intent, specifically the intent of the community of users of a term with respect to how the ascribe it meaning. I believe the intent of the community of users of the term artificial intelligence is by and large to sow confusion, to deceive and to obfuscate. These intentions are the antithesis of what Witggenstein (rightly) believed should be the purpose of new words/terms, especially in technical areas, clarification. If new terms/words are created/used that do not clarify they should be ejected from the language, omitted, thrown out, not used.

I do not mean to suggest that all today who write about and use the term artificial intelligence are bad people, or are part of some secret cabal plotting to take over the world, or any nonsense of that sort. Rather I am suggesting that they too have been misled, deceived, confused by the unfortunate and ongoing continuation of the misuse of the term. They are simply following the convention of the day and I hold no personal grudge against any for it, nor do I think them weak minded or less intelligent than myself or anyone else for that matter. I do however think there are a core group of persons responsible for the current unfortunate situation we find ourselves in with respect to the term and believe they should come clean and fess up to their deception. I do not know who these people are, where they work or where they live, nor do I care. They know however, and it is up to them to step forward and take responsibility for the mess they have created. I have written many times of what I believe could be the potential consequences to society if these lies are not corrected and I have no intention of repeating those arguments here. For everyone’s sake I hope I am wrong.

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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