Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: June 23, 2021, 6:22 a.m. Humanist 35.102 - AI-Human co-authorship

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 102.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2021-06-22 11:33:17+00:00
        From: Jonah Lynch <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.101: AI-Human co-authorship?

Dear Tim,

thanks for your reflections on AI-Human collaboration. I agree with your
assessment of progress in AI. Your distinction is cutting: “no effective
explanation, no intelligence, just lots of cleverness”.

When I worked with a violin-maker, I learned the beauty and the challenge of
keeping a blade sharp while continually making synthetic judgments in order to
obey the grain of the wood while sculpting it into the functional and beautiful
shape of a violin. Tools are not slaves, for sure (M. Crawford had some
interesting things to say about this in the context of repairing motorcycles).
As a programmer, I delight in the successive iterations that have carried me
from 1980s BASIC through C and Java to Python and places like Stackexchange—and
as you say, I “take up tools as an integral means to doing some purposeful
action”. It is wonderful to see how much better these tools have become in the
space of my lifetime.

Some time back, another contributor to this list mentioned that
interdisciplinarity happens in one brain. Something similar seems true about
collaboration—the essential activity happens in single brains, while the
collaborative context provides the information and stimulation without which
certain syntheses would never be reached.

I am currently working on a program that uses machine learning to augment the
human ability to remember and connect pieces of information. My aim is to use
this tool to extend the reach of human intelligence without trying to replace
it. The system aids collaboration among humans, which seems to me a good use of
the current state of the art in machine learning. As you say, it (AI-ML) is not
a “subject”, not “autonomous” nor “creative” (without diving into what we may
mean by those words). It could be, however, a tool to extend the reach of memory
and shorten the time necessary to connect intuition with existing knowledge.
Something like V. Bush’s "memex revisited"… which perhaps is a real possibility
and a real need today. Does anyone here want to discuss this?



> On Jun 22, 2021, at 07:01, Humanist <> wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 101.
>        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                               Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                Submit to:
>        Date: 2021-06-21 10:04:41+00:00
>        From: Tim Smithers <>
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.80: AI-Human co-authorship?
> Dear Jonathan,
> What follows is not supposed to be, in any way, against your
> idea of investigating Human and AI collaboration.  However,
> some things about the way you describe this worry me a bit.
> You say
>    "As AI is improving rapidly, the urgency of these
>     questions intensifies.  ..."
> Is AI improving rapidly?  Yes, human built AI systems are
> being shown to do more things than before, including beating
> humans at games most people find hard to play well, and write
> texts that many humans might struggle to write.  But these AI
> systems are all built using basically the same computational
> Machine Learning techniques.  I see this not as improved AI,
> but as an indication that we humans are getting better at
> building AI systems to do more of the same kind of things.  Do
> any of these more things our AI systems can do now constitute
> better Artificial Intelligence, as opposed to just more AI? Is
> more intelligence in humans (or other animals) marked by being
> able to do more of the same kinds of things?  I don't think
> so.  More AI is not the same as improving AI, I think.
> What has, I think, got better in recent years is the cost --
> it's gone down lots -- and practicality -- it's got easier --
> to do enormous amounts of computation, together with the cost
> -- it's gone down lots -- and practicality -- it's got easier
> -- to assemble the enormous amounts of data needed to train
> artificial systems.  The AI we hear about so much today
> depends upon these real improvements, but is, itself, little
> different from the neurally inspired Machine Learning
> techniques we had before, but without the amounts of
> computation and data needed to make this techniques to useful
> things.
> More.  I would say what we have today is not artificial
> intelligence, it is kinds of useful (and sometimes abused)
> Machine Learning.  For me, and I think for you in your
> project, intelligence requires a system to have a capacity to
> explain what it does, why, and how, in ways others can then
> understand the rational of the [intelligent] actions or
> activities the system engages in.  No effective explanation,
> no intelligence, just lots of cleverness, perhaps, is how I
> see it.
> In your phrase "a slavish tool" you point to something
> important, I think.  Tools are never slaves; not good tools;
> not tools well used.
> A tool is something that, in some way, enhances or extends
> some human capacity, thus making possible, or easier, some
> purposeful human action or activity.  Tools are, I think,
> therefore better understood as means, not as substitutes.
> Tools can become [kinds of] slaves to our actions and
> activities, but this is abuse, I would say, not good tool use.
> If you use a spelling checker system to do all your spell
> checking, for example, rather than use it to help you be sure
> you have all the words you chose to use spelt correctly,
> according to British English, say, it would be fair to say you
> are using the spelling checker slavishly.  But this is a
> broken way to use a powerful tool well.
> But we don't collaborate with tools, we take up tools as an
> integral means to doing some purposeful action or activity.
> Collaboration requires, I would say, an autonomous other.
> Today's AI may be getting more and more clever at doing
> certain things, but it is not yet on the road to becoming
> autonomous, not in the way we use this word, and concept, when
> we talk about human autonomy, and autonomy in other living
> things.  Being autonomous (self law making) is orthogonal to
> being automatic (self acting).  You don't become autonomous by
> becoming more and more automatic, despite what many people in
> AI, robotics, and now the car building, ship building, flying
> drone building, and lethal weapon building industries, like to
> think, and often loudly claim.
> So, wouldn't studying how different people collaborate in
> creative and intelectual pursuits be a way to investigate what
> an AI would need to have, and need to be able to do, to be a
> similarly useful collaborative partner?  This would show, I
> think, how far off we really are from having AIs we could
> usefully collaborate with, rather than use, or abuse, as
> tools.
> Best regards,
> Tim
>> On 11 Jun 2021, at 06:48, Humanist <> wrote:
>>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 80.
>>       Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>>                              Hosted by DH-Cologne
>>               Submit to:
>>       Date: 2021-06-10 19:14:42+00:00
>>       From: Jonathan Cohn <>
>>       Subject: AI-Human Collaboration Grant
>> I am revising a grant proposal on the ethics of Human-AI collaborative
>> writing and artistic experimentation and am looking for potential
>> collaborators and new research on the topic.  Below is a brief
>> description of the project, please feel free to contact me off-listserv
>> if you’d like to collaborate (or just chat).  Thank you!
>> The Master’s Tools: AI-Human co-authorship and collaborative research in
>> the Humanities.
>> What do we give up and what do we gain by imagining Artificial
>> Intelligence as an equal partner in our creative and intellectual
>> pursuits? How can we revise feminist antiracist methods of collaboration
>> to, as Jason Edward Lewis et. al. encourage, make kin with machines
>> (2018)? As AI is improving rapidly, the urgency of these questions
>> intensifies.  Our project will focus on how to artistically and
>> equitably collaborate with AI in a way that does not simply treat it as
>> a slavish tool, but instead imagines it as a unique subjectivity with
>> its own situated knowledge. What does real mutual collaboration look
>> like with a technology whose status as a subject is contentious and who
>> can hardly be said to benefit from the work it contributes? Is this even
>> possible?
>> Jonathan Cohn
>> Director, Digital Humanities
>> Assistant Professor, English and Film Studies
>> University of Alberta
>> ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Amiskwacîwâskahikan), Treaty 6/Métis Territory
>> New Book Coming Soon: Very Special Episodes: Televising Industrial and
>> Social Change
>> (
>> episodes/9781978821156)
>> Newish Book: The Burden of Choice: Recommendations, Subversion, and
>> Algorithmic Culture
>> (

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