Artificial Intelligence

AI’s Knowledge – Wisdom Gap

Sun Breaking through the Clouds at Badlands National park - Eric D. Brown

“We can be knowledgeable with another man’s knowledge, but we cannot be wise with another man’s wisdom”– Montaigne

We’re all excited about AI.

Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone’s trying to find ways to ‘make it work for them.’ Everyone’s giddy and buying into the hype (well…maybe not everyone…but it feels like everyone).

The hype is real, but so are the possibilities with AI, so I’m not going to discourage anyone from being excited about the future with AI. What I always try to do with any new technology or approach is ensure everyone understands the existing limitations.

Before I continue, let me clarify that I’m talking about Generative AI here. That’s the field that has most of the hype today. While some of the limitations below (if not all) exist in other AIs, we’ll focus on GenAI solely.

Limitations of AI

AI faces several key challenges and limitations. Here are the big ones in no particular order (and not a complete list):

  • Lack of creativity
  • Inability to truly understand context
  • Timeliness
  • Bias / Ethics / Moral Questions
  • Privacy
  • Financial Burden / Costs to Run
  • Accuracy

Most of the above limitations have something in common. What is that, you ask?

Wisdom.

Lack of creativity, bias/ethics, inability to understand context, accuracy, timeliness, and—to some degree—privacy could all be fixed (or at least improved) with some wisdom.

That’s what AI lacks. There’s a butt-ton (is that a word?) of information being fed into AI systems, and some of that is being spat out as knowledge, and we are gobbling up that knowledge. We are excited even if what is spit out isn’t correct half the time.

Knowledge is factual and most often quantitative, but wisdom is qualitative. Wisdom comes from experiences, embodies understanding, and incorporates ethics, moral values, empathy, and other important ideas that shape a person’s wisdom.

The quote at the top of this article (one cannot inherit wisdom from another) focuses on today’s challenge. GenAI/LLMs can build ‘knowledge’ out of all the information they’ve been fed (sometimes it’s right..sometimes it’s not), but to date, these systems haven’t created a single iota of wisdom.

The Library Without a Soul: An Allegory of AI’s Knowledge and Wisdom Gap

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič / Unsplash

Think of AI as a librarian working at a massive library filled with every book, article, blog post, and social media update ever written. This library has the most sophisticated indexing system to help it instantly find any data piece.

Despite the massive amounts of data and information available in the library, the librarian cannot grasp the deeper meaning of the data it has access to. If you ask it to “recite a real poem about wisdom,” it will spit something out, but is it real?

I did just that with chatGPT, which gave me the response below (fun fact: it is NOT the poem “The Wise” by Countee Cullen).

The LLM can spit out ‘words,’ but it can’t truly understand them (and, in this case, even get them correct). It can’t understand the emotions behind poetry or the depths of a philosophical argument made in an essay – but it can create a poem and an argument debating a topic. AI cannot pull new ideas together and synthesize them with wisdom into something ‘new.’

This library is full of data and information, with some sporadic knowledge scattered about it, but it is static and lifeless without human intervention. It can inform but not enlighten; it can instruct but not inspire.

AI is impressive, yet it’s incomplete without wisdom. In contrast, the wisdom of understanding, empathy, moral decision-making, interpretation, and contextualization of knowledge remain traits unique to humans. They are akin to the wise old (human) librarian who knows where every book is and understands how to help you find the best options when you ask them for help finding poems about wisdom.

Conclusion

The hype of AI is justified, but we need to remember its limitations. The gap between knowledge and wisdom is crucial and significant and will not disappear soon.

AI is a tool for us to use. But we need to remember it lacks the depth of human understanding. It is a tool that can often be wrong and often makes us scratch our heads.

As we continue working with AI, let’s not lose sight of the value of the wisdom we’ve gained. You can interpret, empathize, and make moral judgments as a human being—things AI cannot do.

AI’s journey is far from complete. While it offers immense knowledge, the essence of wisdom still eludes it – for now?

About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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