Coooooool! Waaay to gooo Goooogle!
Damon Horowitz is currently in-house philosopher at Google.
So says the brief bio-note attached to Horowitz’s unguarded confession in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education: “From Technologist to Philosopher.”
For those of you who don’t have access to the Chronicle, here’s a bit of a taste of the article:
And, slowly, I realized that the questions I was asking [about how to improve my work in Artificial Intelligence] were philosophical questions—about the nature of thought, the structure of language, the grounds of meaning. So if I really hoped to make major progress in AI, the best place to do this wouldn’t be another AI lab. If I really wanted to build a better thinker, I should go study philosophy.
Thus, about a decade ago, I quit my technology job to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. And that was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Why on earth, you may ask, would someone working on AI benefit from a PhD in philosophy?
Having a more humanistic sensibility has made me a much better technologist than I was before. I no longer see the world through the eyes of a machine—through the filter of what we are capable of reducing to its logical foundations. I am more aware of how the products we build shape the culture we are in. I am more attuned to the ethical implications of our decisions. And I no longer assume that machines can solve all of our problems for us. The task of thinking is still ours.
Horowitz goes on to explain how his humanistic habits of thought led to a novel way of thinking about what many technologists take to be reducible to an information query:
Instead of defining a query as an information-retrieval problem, and returning a list of Web pages, we treat it as an invitation to a human engagement.
When you ask a question on Horowitz’s search engine, you get directed to a person who can not only answer your question, but also engage you in a human-human interaction.
This idea was so cool that Google bought it — literally — last year and made Horowitz its in-house philosopher.
I’ll say it again — cooool.