What Socrates Had to Say About Artificial Intelligence

Yes, I know; it’s odd that I reference Plato and Socrates, men who lived 2300 years ago, and Artificial Intelligence in the same sentence. But technological breakthroughs are not just a modern phenomenon. They have been occurring since the dawn of creation. (Trivia Question: What was the first wearable technology?)*

The artificial intelligence that Socrates had to deal with was the invention of writing, which he credited to the Egyptians. He didn’t like it. Here is what Plato has him saying on the subject:”

this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Phaedrus, plato

Some would make the same case about today’s Artificial Intelligence. Yet, Socrates was wrong about writing’s impact on the mind, and I expect our modern critics will also be wrong.

The irony in all of this is that we remember Socrates because Plato wrote down his words. Not even Socrates could stop the advance of technology.

The bottom line, A.I. is just another disruptive technology. We’ll survive. What survival is going to look like is anyone’s guess.


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