Cody Turner ’13 has had an impressive academic career. After receiving his B.A. in philosophy from the College of William and Mary, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Connecticut. Currently, he is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Notre Dame Technology Ethics Center. In addition, he is a Future of Consciousness Fellow at the Center for the Future Mind at Florida Atlantic University.
Turner's areas of specialization include Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Mind, Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics, and Virtue Epistemology. “My current research focuses on how emerging wearable and implantable AI cognitive assistant devices, such as smartwatches, smart glasses, smart contact lenses, and neural implants, are poised to affect the mind from a metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological perspective,” he explains.
On April 24, Turner returned to Berkshire to speak to students and faculty as part of the Tian Family Endowed Lecture Series. His lecture was titled “The Ethics of Emerging AI Assistant Devices.” Established in 2018 by Trustee Jane Yue and Joe Tian P’19, the Tian Family Endowed Lecture Series for AMSR and AI provides funds to cover travel and honoraria for researchers and industry leaders who visit campus to share their expertise. You can watch Turner's talk here (select "On Demand" and scroll down to April 24).
Please read the Q & A below to hear more about Turner's research and his time under the Mountain.
After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy, what sparked your interest in pursuing your specific postdoctoral work which looks at how digital technology affects us?
My Ph.D. dissertation, titled "A Virtue Epistemology of Brain-Computer Interface and Augmented Reality Technology," explores AI assistant devices, with a particular emphasis on neurotechnology and extended reality technology, through the lens of virtue epistemology. The primary goal of this project was to investigate how these technologies can influence the development and preservation of intellectual virtues, specifically intellectual perseverance, intellectual autonomy, intellectual humility, and open-mindedness. As my Ph.D. research centered on the philosophy of AI and the philosophy of mind, I sought a position that would allow me to continue my work within an interdisciplinary environment. Notre Dame's Technology Ethics Center is an ideal fit, as it unites researchers from diverse academic backgrounds, all focusing on technology ethics.
Would you say you are a proponent or an opponent regarding the future of AI and why?
My perspective on the future of AI encompasses both techno-optimistic and techno-pessimistic elements. I do not consider myself a technological determinist, as I believe that technological advancements are not inevitable and remain within human control. We can shape the future of AI through value-sensitive design approaches, regulatory measures, and other means. From a techno-pessimistic standpoint, concerns arise regarding the AI control problem, algorithmic bias and opacity, digital neo-colonization, the digital divide, intellectual property, cognitive degeneration, digital privacy, and unemployment.
Conversely, the techno-optimistic viewpoint highlights the numerous promising applications of AI in fields such as healthcare (medical diagnosis, drug discovery, personalized medicine, robotic surgery), personalized education, cybersecurity, finance (fraud detection, risk management, credit scoring), transportation (automated driving, traffic management systems), and agriculture (precision farming, crop yield optimization). In the distant future, AI automation could potentially lead to a society sometimes called fully automated luxury communism. This techno-utopian vision proposes that AI and other technologies will generate such an abundance of material wealth and prosperity that there will be no need for jobs, and perhaps even capitalism itself will become obsolete. While fully automated luxury communism could address many of today's economic inequality issues, it also raises existential questions about finding meaning in a world where work is no longer necessary.
What inspired you to study philosophy?
My fascination with philosophy began in middle school when I stumbled upon Simon Blackburn's introductory book, Think at a Barnes & Noble bookstore on the College of William & Mary campus—ironically, the very college I would later attend. The mind-body problem, or the hard problem of consciousness, was one of the subjects in the book that truly ignited my passion for philosophy.
In what ways did your time at Berkshire influence your academic and career choices?
At Berkshire, my interest in philosophy was further fueled by taking Mr. Splawn's Philosophy of Religion course during my senior year. Additionally, I undertook an independent study on free will under Mr. Splawn's guidance in my final year at Berkshire. These experiences studying philosophy at Berkshire solidified my decision to pursue a major in philosophy during my college years.
What are some of your fondest memories of your time under the Mountain?
I have so many fond memories of my time under the Mountain. They include participating in the cross-country team during the peak of autumn. Mr. Gulotta served as a remarkable mentor during this time. Another memory was being a member of the basketball team, and our journey to the New England Championship in my sophomore year. Mr. Kinne was another invaluable mentor to whom I owe immense gratitude. My Pro Vita trip hiking the Appalachian Trail, guided by Mrs. McGovern and Mr. Blauss, was also an amazing experience. Also, in my junior year, I had the opportunity to engage in river kayaking, an exhilarating experience under the supervision of Mr. Spear as well as singing in the Greensleeves a cappella group under the tutelage of Dr. Davis and Dr. Wu, which was an enriching experience that contributed greatly to my personal growth and musical development.
Lastly: the project in Dr. Kohlhepp’s English class that involved choosing a product and then finding an audience to sell that product to. My product of choice was a Slinky, and my audience was teachers in different academic fields. The project was structured like a competition. Each student presented their pitch to the class, and then the class voted to determine which pitches were the most persuasive. I ended up making it to the final round of this competition. At the time, I was still struggling with some social anxiety borne out of living away from home. My success in this project bolstered my self-esteem and made me feel more comfortable at Berkshire. Since then, I have always carried around a Slinky as a good luck charm.