Deep learning: A Philosophical Introduction

August, 2019


Deep learning is currently the most prominent and widely successful method in artificial intelligence. Despite having played an active role in earlier artificial intelligence and neural network research, philosophers have been largely silent on this technology so far. This is remarkable, given that deep learning neural networks have blown past predicted upper limits on artificial intelligence performance—recognizing complex objects in natural photographs and defeating world champions in strategy games as complex as Go and chess—yet there remains no universally accepted explanation as to why they work so well. This article provides an introduction to these networks as well as an opinionated guidebook on the philosophical significance of their structure and achievements. It argues that deep learning neural networks differ importantly in their structure and mathematical properties from the shallower neural networks that were the subject of so much philosophical reflection in the 1980s and 1990s. The article then explores several different explanations for their success and ends by proposing three areas of inquiry that would benefit from future engagement by philosophers of mind and science.

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