When AI Meets Chinese Philosophers

In late March the Berggruen Institute Research Center at Peking University held a workshop titled “When AI Meets Chinese Philosophers.” Sixteen prestigious scholars delivered addresses at the event, including eminent Chinese specialists in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and renowned philosophers and scholars in the humanities and social sciences from various countries.

At the event, Chinese philosophers conducted a systematic and fundamental reflection on the current AI revolution, and raised a series of questions. AI scientists, in return, provided technical and constructive responses to these philosophical inquiries, refining the overall discourse on the topic.

Attending experts agreed that philosophical discussions on AI are crucial, as its tenants go beyond the realm of culture. By discussing topics concerning AI from the perspective of Chinese philosophy, they found answers stemming from various beliefs, concepts, and propositions of traditional Chinese culture. In addition to Chinese culture, answers could also be found in other cultures. What makes the prospect of developing AI frightening is the speed with which it evolves. In this sense, its development can be perhaps considered inevitable. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss and research AI, positing feasible solutions.

According to the workshop modern society believes infinite technological advancement can create miracles. However, even as the application of AI remains very limited, “algorithmic bias” has still caused an increase in racism and gender discrimination on the internet, alongside a sharp spike in cyberattacks. Participating scholars expressed worry about the potential risks of AI, and the resultant, eventual “dominant place” of great powers in the field of AI.

Basing their considerations on repeated warnings given by experts in philosophical, academic, and industrial circles on the future risks of AI and its potential misjudgments, scientists attending the workshop stated that the most pressing challenge lies in information technology, in which the most urgent issue includes the formulation of digital ethics.

For now, it is a matter of fact that AI is unable to existentially threaten human beings. However, deeper integration of AI within the human lifestyle and livelihood will steadily blur the boundary between machine and man, raising many nuanced ethical concerns. Thus, scholars at the event called on the public to pay attention not only to the aspects that may improve economic and social inclusiveness via the development of AI, but also to the disadvantageous social attributes that may manifest as a result. It is crucial to ensure the healthy, rational development of AI science, technology, and industry to minimize social risk, cultivate proper digital ethical norms, and provide for stable governance.

As for the linkage between robotic ethics and morality, Chinese philosophy, including theories from The Book of Changes, Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism, Legalism, Buddhism, etc., provides valuable foundations for understanding and reshaping AI.

The workshop discussed that interdisciplinary dialogue and communication between scientists and Chinese philosophers can, on the one hand, deepen traditional Chinese awareness of the meaning of life; on the other hand, it may illuminate avenues to expand the possibilities of human development alignment with AI. Such a collision of ideas inspires mankind to rethink and maintain cultural diversity in a globalized era, thus laying the groundwork to reconsider and reconstruct relations between China and the rest of the world.

The Berggruen Research Center at Peking University plans to publish relevant books in both Chinese and English in the hopes of encouraging people to mediate over the challenges faced by humanity more profoundly and systematically from a multicultural perspective.