There is much talk at the moment about the continuing evolution of artificial intelligence technologies and what the implications of this will be for the future of humanity. Those such as Ray Kurzweil can’t wait to be integrated with a machine smarter than he is while Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are warning of such technologies evolving beyond our control and threatening our existence.

It is difficult to discern whether those advocating greater machine intelligence and the outsourcing of mind are truly excited about the benefits this will bring to humanity, or whether they have lost such faith in humanity that they look forward to us being displaced at the top of the food chain. I believe the main driver is the loss of faith held by many in positions of power generating their need to better control human relationships through mediating them through intelligent machines. Like the monarchy in the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), they see AI machines imposing a much needed rationality that most humans lack.

Throughout history there have always been those who have, for various reasons, had a positive view of human nature; that we are creative creatures capable of self-realization if given the right conditions, and those with a negative view; that we are evil, stupid creatures who need to be strictly controlled for our own good. I believe it is the negative, Hobbesian view which is driving us to a world where intelligent machines create us in their purely logical and predictable image, making us more controllable.

Such views, I argue, are anti-human and the recent trend towards machine marking of university assessments, including as was recently reported, AI marking of essays, is a paradigm example. Machine marking not only shows a total lack of understanding of what humans need for their growth and development, it reveals a systematic disregard for such needs. To support this claim I will refer to a great philosopher with a more positive view of human nature, Georg Hegel.

Hegel (1770-1831) was a complex thinker in that he took an historical perspective and saw everything in threes. In order to understand culture and society in a non-reductionist way, he argued that we should examine it through at least three dialectical patterns, or patterns of argument. Dialectical patterns, for Hegel, are fundamental to the human development process and lead to more complex thinking and greater degrees of freedom. In Hegel’s conception, the patterns move from abstract to negative to concrete. We have a simplistic view of reality which meets resistance leading to self-reflection and transcendence as we develop a more complex understanding and become more inclusive.

In his lectures on Realphilosophie delivered at the University of Jena between 1803 and 1806, Hegel introduced his dialectical patterns. The dialectic of symbolic representation is well summarized in the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, as “the role and significance of language for social consciousness, for giving expression to a people (Volk) and for the comprehending of and mastery of the world, and the necessity and consequences of the fragmentation of primordial social relationships and patterns as part of the process of human development.:

The dialectic of labour famously became the focus of Karl Marx’s work on what Australian philosopher Arran Gare calls the “humanization of nature.” Controlling nature requires developing the forces of production involving not only technologies, but forms of social organization. The control of people as the means towards this process can lead to alienation, which brings us to the third dialectical pattern, the dialectic of recognition.

Hegel saw humans as fundamentally social creatures and so our development was tied to our relationships with other humans. Our ability to transcend our finite egocentric stages and understand ourselves as part of something infinite requires recognition and reciprocity. From a dialectical perspective, Hegel understood this as a struggle. Take the LGBTQI community, for example, who are struggling for the right to be married here in Australia. They are seeking to be included within society by negating the simplistic views of reality held by many to engender more complex understanding. Through this struggle, they seek to become part of something greater by being recognized and included by all of society. If successful, they overcome their alienation and lack of self-worth.

Hegel believed that humanity, through overcoming obstacles, was necessarily moving towards greater tolerance, inclusion and freedom overall. Like many of his critics, I do not believe that this progress is guaranteed. Like the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), I believe that opposing positions are not left behind but continually threaten to return. In modern Australia, one can see some progress has been made in greater tolerance and inclusion through such struggles while others have regressed. The achievement of gay marriage will be evidence of progress, but progress that cannot then be assumed.

So why, therefore, would our tertiary education system want to deny students the value of such struggles for recognition?

My university semester has come to a close and final assessments, in the form of essays in my case, have been submitted. Over the twelve weeks of teaching, while some students attempted to impress me, I focussed on gaining their respect, both for my work and my character. My students knew that I would be marking their work and assessing their performance and so my efforts were directed towards making the recognition I give them through reading and marking their essays valuable and meaningful.

I do this because I still vividly remember an essay I got back in the mail in my first undergraduate year from a politics lecturer whose knowledge and teaching I respected. The essay came with over half a page of typed comments, beginning with the words, “This is one of the best essays I have ever read on this topic.” I found myself in tears over the realization that my intelligence had been recognized by a respected academic. I realized then that I could have what it takes to be included amongst such people one day as a colleague.

Contrast my experience with that of a good friend’s daughter, who I spoke to after she completed her first university year. Most of her assessments were machine marked and those that were not were subject to strict formulas and done, as she suspected, by paid markers. One of her major assessments involved an exam with eighty multiple choice questions, obviously designed so no human needs to mark it. She was quite sure that none of her work for the year had been marked by any of her teachers, who kept changing anyway.

This is not pedagogy, but abuse. It is not a struggle for recognition but a deliberate process of retardation. I came out of first year university feeling included and inspired by the teachers who personally assessed me, some of whom are now friends and colleagues. I even came to appreciate my struggles with the not-so-good teachers I encountered. My friend’s daughter, on the other hand, just feels alienated, ripped off, and confused about the value of higher education. Rather than learning to value and trust in humanity, she has been insidiously conditioned to further invest her trust in her smartphone.

Machines, even smart ones, do not afford us recognition, therefore their assessments of us are meaningless. Moral and intellectual development is not achieved through our interactions with our logical machines, but through our often messy, unpredictable, sometimes dangerous and sometimes beautiful and profound engagements with other humans. Those who argue that AI marking is the future and is necessary due to costs and efficiency are effectively saying that these things are more important than the intellectual and moral development of humans—development that Hegel showed is tied to meaningful human interaction. Such people are anti-human and should not be allowed anywhere near a university.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

About The Author

Glenn McLaren teaches philosophy at Swinburne University. Melbourne, Australia. Prior to becoming a philosopher he spent most of his working life as a fitness trainer. His main interest, therefore is in health, both of humans and the biosphere. As a process philosopher, he has a particular interest in transforming philosophy to make it more relevant to addressing our current and future global crises.