Almost two years ago, I took my first dance class after COVID isolation had ended. We were working on a new choreography, and the instructor paired us up to practice the dance for each other. There was one rule: we had to give a specific compliment to the other dancer about their performance.
That small interaction should not have shaken my world. But I had been in graduate school for so long, and I'd never experienced a similar instruction. As philosophers, we were so good at tearing things down and making critical remarks. Even when those critical remarks were constructive, they still felt devastating.
I'd received support from mentors and friends, and I'd tried to support others myself. But as an academic discipline, we were bad at giving compliments and supporting each other's work. As I watched my dance class instructor gently correct students while still encouraging them, I wondered - is the purely critical mode of doing philosophy actually the best one?
Trouble in Academic Paradise
Academic philosophy talks and discussions sometimes feel like a battle, with the speaker obliged to defend their views against attacks from the audience. The idea behind this seems to be that focused critiques will help to build the strongest view that works in every case. In reality, it tends to encourage defending and building out views to be impervious to criticism, whether or not the basic view is right in the first place.
If your idea is wrong, then all the work you put into it feels wasted and you can't easily get a publication out of it. Rarely, you will see philosophers who correct their old ideas after becoming convinced they were wrong, but that takes up valuable time and energy in a job market where rapid publication is necessary for basic employment.
Between these and other problems, I decided to leave academic philosophy.
The Ups and Downs
I knew I wanted to leave, but I had no idea what I wanted to do at first. I had almost no idea of the alternate career paths open to me. After talking to several kind souls on LinkedIn, I found user experience writing and ethics as my new dream.
But then the layoffs started happening. After watching so many people get tossed aside unceremoniously, I wasn't sure that I wanted to be at the mercy of a big tech company in the same way I had been at the mercy of the university. I started talking with my friend Ricky Mouser, another philosophy PhD candidate at Indiana University, about trying to build something between the academic and corporate worlds.
Then GPT-4 dropped, and I was immediately scared for my own future as a writer. Don't get me wrong - good writers can still knock GPT-4 out of the park, but I think we're already seeing GPT models shift the market in key ways. See, for instance, the worries about AI being raised by the current Hollywood writers' strike.
I realized that I couldn't think through all the impacts of GPT-4 on my own and that we'd collectively need to come together to decide how to respond to this new technology. With Ricky's encouragement, I decided to organize an open and free Zoom conference on AI ethics, and we co-founded philosophy for humans.
You can sign up for "Who's Responsible for ChatGPT? Developing a Public Vision for AI" here.
Everyone is welcome. We all have a stake in AI.
We aim to bring together academics, professionals, and any interested thinkers to productively talk about how we want ChatGPT to fit into our lives. We want to feature ideas that help us collectively think through these issues and build consensus around the values that matter.
If you'd like to give a talk, please apply! You can opt for a 5-7min lightning talk or a 15-20min presentation.
Applications are due on June 19th at 5PM EST, and the conference will be held August 3-5.
Our mission at philosophy for humans is to make philosophy accessible to everyone and to use philosophical thinking to improve our lives.
In addition to future conferences, we're offering workshops on AI ethics and other creative topics for anyone who wants more philosophy in their life. The first workshop, ChatGPT and Bullshit, is free! It will be held June 11th at 3PM EST on Google Meet.
I still have no idea what my life will look like in the next few months and years, but I'm so excited to share what I love about doing philosophy and create a new space that evokes the ethos of my dance class. We would love to keep offering classes, so let us know if there's a topic that interests you!
I can't wait to challenge academic philosophers to think about doing philosophy differently and non-academic-philosophers to think about how philosophy could help them solve real problems.
Join us as we advocate for humans in the age of AI!