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From Chairs to AI: Defining What Is Artificial Intelligence

“In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas." Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

For those looking to govern the creation and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) there is one question that must be answered, "What is AI?"


Before meaningful regulation, policies, or guidelines can be developed we must first understand what AI is and what it is not. However, as important as this question is, the answer has eluded many if not most of us.


At one level AI consists of the same computing technology we have used in the past. In fact, it can be reduced down to its bits and bytes and a simple Turing machine. However, our experience using AI suggests that it is something more and different than computing of the past.


Perhaps, AI is better defined by how it is used or what it can do and by what it might become?


How should AI be best defined?


In this article we consider the concepts of overmining, undermining and the domain of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) to help get to the heart of the matter.



From Chairs to AI:  Defining what is Artificial Intelligence
From Chairs to AI: Defining what is Artificial Intelligence

Object Oriented Ontology


In the domain of philosophy, Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) has emerged as a thought-provoking framework that challenges traditional notions of reality and existence. At the centre of OOO lies a delicate balance between undermining and overmining, a paradox that holds particular significance when applied to objects, be they physical entities like a chair or more abstract constructs like Artificial Intelligence (AI).


Undermining: Descending into the Essence


Consider a chair. When we focus on its individual components, such as the legs, we risk undermining the holistic essence of the chair. Object-Oriented Ontology suggests that by dissecting and isolating the parts, we lose sight of the interconnectedness and emergent properties that define the chair as a unified whole. This reductionist approach challenges us to reconsider how we perceive and categorize objects, urging us to appreciate their intrinsic qualities beyond mere components.


The same principle applies to AI. When we break down artificial intelligence into its algorithms, data structures, or even specific functionalities, we may undermine the overarching complexity and emergent behaviours that make AI a unique entity. OOO encourages us to recognize the depth of objects, discouraging reductionism that oversimplifies their essence.


Overmining: Ascending into Abstraction


Conversely, when we overmine an object, we risk losing touch with its concrete reality. Take the example of a chair again. If we start categorizing chairs based on its shape, or how it is used such as: round chairs, tall chairs, chairs in hospitals, kitchen chairs—we risk overmining the concept of a chair. Object-Oriented Ontology cautions against excessive abstraction, urging us to avoid diluting the essence of an object by layering it with unnecessary classifications—a risk of holism.


In the world of AI, overmining occurs when we categorize artificial intelligence based solely on external factors such as its applications, industry use cases, or even its cultural impact. OOO challenges us to find a middle ground that allows for meaningful categorization without losing sight of the fundamental nature of AI as a complex, interconnected system.


Synthesis: Finding the Balance


The challenge, then, lies in finding a balance between undermining and overmining—an intersection of reductionism and holism. In the context of a chair, we need a definition that captures the essence without reducing it to its individual components or overdetermining it with non-essential attributes. The same applies to AI, where we strive to define its nature without oversimplifying its complexity or overloading it with extraneous categorizations.


Object-Oriented Ontology encourages us to adopt a nuanced perspective, recognizing the interconnectedness and emergent properties of objects, whether they be physical entities or conceptual constructs like AI.


By navigating the delicate balance between undermining and overmining, we can develop a more profound understanding of the objects that shape our world including what defines Artificial Intelligence.


More work is needed to develop clarity to what AI is and what it is not. A lack of a clear and concise definition creates the risk of over regulation or under regulation for compliance, as well as possible duplication of effort in creating new standards and guidelines that already cover what is essential.


In the words of Goldilocks we need a definition that is not too hard, not too soft, but just right.


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