The Digital Basanos: AI and the Virtue and Violence of Truth-Telling
In ancient Greece, the basanos or touchstone had multiple meanings: a literal stone that tests the authenticity of gold by revealing its characteristic mark upon striking it, or metaphorically, a moral test of the authenticity of a life or a ruler. It also referred to a method of extracting truthful testimony by means of torture; specifically, of non-Greek slaves. The basanos thus embodies the interweaving of truth-telling with virtue, violence, and power in Western moral, political, and technical thought. In this talk I explore how contemporary uses of AI and data science have retraced and reconstituted the basanos in myriad ways, while also revealing a critical opportunity for the invention of new, more just and sustainable means of truth-telling.
Shannon Vallor is the Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence at the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh, where she is also appointed to the Department of Philosophy. In addition to her many articles and published educational modules on the ethics of data, robotics, and artificial intelligence, she is the author of the book Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting (Oxford University Press, 2016) and the forthcoming Lessons from the AI Mirror: Rebuilding Our Humanity in an Age of Machine Thinking.