Authors: Algis Mickunas, Joseph Pilotta

A Critical Understanding of Artificial Intelligence: A Phenomenological Foundation

eBook: US $69 Special Offer (PDF + Printed Copy): US $111
Printed Copy: US $76
Library License: US $276
ISBN: 978-981-5123-41-8 (Print)
ISBN: 978-981-5123-40-1 (Online)
Year of Publication: 2023
DOI: 10.2174/97898151234011230101


Artificial intelligence (AI) is viewed as one of the technological advances that will reshape modern societies and their relations. While the design and deployment of systems that continually adapt hold the promise of far-reaching, positive change, they simultaneously pose significant risks, especially to already vulnerable people.

This work explores the meaning of AI, and the important role of critical understanding and its phenomenological foundation in shaping its ongoing advances. The values, power, and magic of reason are central to this discussion. Critical theory has used historical hindsight to explain the patterns of power that shape our intellectual, political, economic, and social worlds, and the discourse on AI that surrounds these worlds. The authors also delve into niche topics in philosophy such as transcendental self-awareness, post-humanism, and concepts of space-time and computer logic.

By embedding a critical phenomenological orientation within their technical practices, AI communities can develop foresight and tactics that can better align research and technology development with established ethical principles — centering vulnerable people who continue to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of innovation and scientific progress. The creation of a critical–technical practice of AI will lead to a permanent revolution in social, scientific, and political communities. The years ahead will usher in a wave of new scientific breakthroughs and technologies driven by AI research, making it incumbent upon AI communities to strengthen the social contract through ethical foresight, a capability which only phenomenology can deliver, ultimately supporting future technologies that enable greater well-being, with the goal of delivering practical truths.

A Critical Understanding of Artificial Intelligence: A Phenomenological Foundation is an essential read for anyone interested in the complex debate and phenomenology surrounding AI and its growing role in our society.


For a long time, there has been a problem with technology. The progress of this phenomenon has been alienating. People have lost control of their work, and their employment has been threatened. Workplaces and diverse global organizations have been altered. Current reports about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) provide a testimonial to this problem. The changes initiated by AI at Amazon, for example, relate to the manipulation of workers and customers, attended by a widespread message that AI will improve the lives of everyone.

In view of these conflicting trends, some critics call for the decolonization of AI. In this vein, priority has been given to the development of a human-centric AI. The key issue, according to these writers, is that technology in general, and AI in particular, has gained autonomy and dominates everyday life. So, the question becomes: How can a more humanely embedded technology be produced?

Cathy O'Neil, in her book Weapons of Math Destruction, argues that algorithms are simply opinions written in code. Her point is that algorithms are not mystical, but rather, they are nothing more than human expressions. Mickunas and Pilotta contribute to this outlook with their claim that AI is a human language implanted in complex products, which are extensions of our practical abilities. It is not the AI that is in charge but the human creative autonomy that has the final say.

Mickunas and Pilotta correct this misunderstanding through their reliance on phenomenology and their grounding of AI in the life-world. With the illusion of autonomy undermined, AI should no longer be able to colonize other modes of knowledge. A full range of human expression is now available, with AI representing only one modality. In this regard, Mickunas and Pilotta, consistent with Husserl’s aim in the Crisis, go a long way to resurrecting the human agency at the core of this and other technologies, showing that their alienating effects are unwarranted.

John W. Murphy
Professor of Sociology
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida, USA