Philosophy Bots?


Philosophy Bots?

If you are paying attention to the outside world at all, you may be aware of the rapid transformation of our world into “robo-world,” that is a place where robotic devices are swiftly taking over tasks currently or historically done by human beings. Soon, our cars and trucks will be self-driven by bot technology and promise to be safer getting us where we wish to go. Driverless truck caravans will be delivering all those things we need and want, most of which will be designed, fabricated, grown and sold by consumer bots.

We will have bot doctors that listen, research and prescribe, even do the surgery while human beings watch and admire the speed and accuracy of bodily repair. We already have bot writers that prepare, format and present articles on the web for us to read. [Side note: this article was not written by a bot]. In law offices and on Wall Street, research is done and decisions are made by bots while human beings transmit data that influence millions of lives and livelihoods.

So, as you look through course offerings on this web site and consider whether or not you wish to enter a world of Consciousness Studies, Transformational Psychology or Liberal Arts, you might consider what jobs may in a decade or two be taken over by bots and which jobs will likely or necessarily remain the province of human beings. And when you are thinking about it, you might also consider whether taking up this study will prepare you for that choice.

As a professor of philosophy here at UPR, I am aware of the robotic revolution in all areas of the economy and culture. It is not a difficult matter for a bot to research, gather, organize, present, and even evaluate course performance in philosophy or psychology. I am reminded by a joke in three panels in the New Yorker years ago showing a professor giving a lecture to students, then a computer giving the lecture to the students, and finally a computer giving a lecture to a room full of computers. Is that happening here?

No it isn’t, and here’s why. In the wisdom tradition, which is the historical and living thread of knowledge followed here at UPR, the emphasis is upon a personal study of materials, ideas, and principles thoughtfully transmitted from one person to another with a focus on individual development and not as a matter of simply passing along information.

We recognize and celebrate the conviction that human beings are tripartite in nature, that is made up of body, mind and spirit, and that all three aspects of this trinity must be addressed as a unity, leaving no part of this nature neglected or no part given more attention than another. And no matter what the individual chooses to do in order to thrive in the world, this unity will always be a present and articulated reality.

The principle of interaction in the format of this educational experience cannot be presented by a bot, no matter how sophisticated or cleverly programmed. We learned early on through Alan Turing (an individual life featured currently in the film “The Imitation Game”) that human beings and machines will never have the same capacity to think because they are inherently different. A machine may be able to mimic a person in conversation or the performance of a task, but will never make the transcendent leap of thought and feeling that is the true character of being human.

You may ask, how do we insure that the study of the wisdom tradition is transmitted personally in a distance learning format? The answer is that it is precisely because the distance learning format presents that challenge and that UPR strives to make certain that a personal connection between faculty and student never becomes mechanical or impersonal. We do this through phone conferences, forum discussions, individually framed papers and individual emails. And of course, it is up to the student to take advantage of this personal connection during every week of the course of study.

America’s founding thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” What he meant is contained in the word “integrity,” a word meaning whole, or integrated. It is the mind, the individual consciousness, that has the task of keeping body, mind and spirit integrated. That task is the challenge we undertake in every week of every class. And we make sure that the computer, the old Turing machine, serves and does not replace what it means to be a human being.

Richard Geldard, Ph.D. UPR Dean of Undergraduate Studies. Dramatic Literature and Classics, Stanford University. Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University, Doctoral Faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and Author of ten books on Early Greek philosophy and the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson (see