Harrison Middleton University

A Different Sort of Tool

A Different Sort of Tool

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


July 14, 2023

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Following our discussion series “What the Greeks Can Teach Us About AI,” I have become increasingly interested in understanding the uses and reasons for using artificial intelligence (AI). Throughout the series, participants repeated the notion that AI was simply a tool. While I believe this is true, I keep returning to the question: what is AI a tool for?  

According to Merriam-Webster, a tool is:
1] a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task
2] something (such as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession

These definitions appear clear until further investigation. Task itself is a fairly vague word which means something like: an assigned piece of work. Tasks usually have a deadline. They can be mental, physical, or emotional. Tasks can be communal or personal. They can affect all aspects of life including work, home, and social life. They can be physical or imaginary. In other words, a task is anything that we have to do but don’t really want to do. They are not necessarily related to work or profession. It would seem to me that AI is not really suited to help with emotional tasks, except there are emotional support bots and bots that answer helplines. So, again, I’m not entirely sure what type of tool AI is.

Unlike the ax or even the cotton gin, we don’t really have specific parameters or boundaries for the use of AI. In some cases (medicine comes to mind) we are already putting its amazing data analysis capacity to work. However, we didn’t develop AI with this in mind. Rather, AI has been a years-long experiment in the unknown. Some of us may use it to help turn on lights or play music, but would we consider this a tool? Does it save the time and effort often associated with a task? Perhaps, although I have never really thought of the few seconds of scrolling to get to my playlists as a task. Do those types of applications make a difference? My answer would be: that it’s arguable, but I welcome any debate.

Throughout human history, many tools were developed with purpose. Ax, arrowheads, knives, bows and arrows – all of these had specific reasons for development. AI, however, seems to be different. Developed without a specific purpose, AI seems to be an invention of human ingenuity, but not necessarily labor-saving. In the upcoming weeks, a variety of contributors will continue the discussion of AI. We’re trying to understand how it can be used, why humans developed it, and we’ll attempt to explore some of its more important implications.

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