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Borges and AI

Léon Bottou and Bernhard Schölkopf

We started this work mid-2022. AI was already turning into a mainstream topic. Both as a scientist and a member of the society, I was troubled by the ambient confusion between the actual AI technology and the AI of our dreams or nightmares. We seem unable to grasp this technology and its impact without referring to an AI mythology that maybe starts with Homer's golden maiden and was popularized by modern science fiction.

Therefore we decided to instead interpret the advances of AI using a very different lens: the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, whose subtly ironical stories illuminate how language works and relates to reality. This intellectual exercise turned into a very fruitful exercise, one that has reframed our outlook on AI:

  • It clarifies the relation between AI and language models, or fiction machines.
  • It explains how humans perceive these technologies, searching for vindications that comfort our preconceptions, vainly attempting to purify the fiction machine, or trusting this modern Pythia over our own reason.
  • It also explains how fiction machines should be seen as tools to construct theories for both real and imagined worlds. The ability to create fictional stories —so-called “hallucinations”— is crucially important. For instance, to understand a factual story, say a historical battle, we must be able to imagine how different circumstance or decisions would have changed the events. This provides a new meaning to Pat Winston's claim about the centrality of story making and story telling.
  • And finally, it shows the importance how understanding the world through the right story. For instance, understanding the weather patterns through the mood of the Gods only went so far. Yet it took centuries to readjust.
news/borges_and_ai.txt · Last modified: 2023/12/19 11:44 by leonb

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