Research in the Spotlight: Sonia de Jager
Short biography of Sonia de Jager
I was born in Buenos Aires in 1988 and have lived in Rotterdam for almost twenty years, but in between also in other places; like Amsterdam, Istanbul and New York. I'm currently a doctoral researcher at the Erasmus School of Philosophy, working together with Sjoerd van Tuinen on a project about the philosophy of artificial intelligence, dealing with the concepts of ambiguity, intuition, limit and function. At the same time I also work at the Willem de Kooning Academie as an art theory tutor, and I run the yearly music and philosophy conference Regenerative Feedback.
I decided to contact Sjoerd for the possibility of a PhD given I had been following his work for quite some years. As a Deleuzian, he doesn't shy away from merging perspectives from art, technoscience, critical theory and beyond. This rejection of monodisciplinarity is essential in my approach, so I applied for a position with him as a supervisor at ESPhil. Besides this, Erasmus University is in Rotterdam, by far my favorite city in the Netherlands and my home base for the foreseeable future, so this was also a reason to opt for ESPhil.
Short description research:
My research merges various fields and traditions--such as the history of modern philosophy, philosophy of language, critical theory, psychoanalysis, predictive processing, computational semantics, natural language processing, etc.--as my intention is to provide a novel map of the concepts I mention above. To give an example of what this entails, a paper soon to be published in the AI & Society journal deals with the concept of ambiguity as it arises in metaphors, a key linguistic object not yet fully 'captured' by computational means. The premise is that if metaphors are essentially semantically ambiguous and one has to guess their precise meaning, that one in fact resolves this ambiguity by way of guesswork, which leads, of course, to the question of intuition. If metaphors make up about 99% of language, what does this intuitive labyrinth mean for computational semantics? The paper following this one starts off with intuition and thereby considers the concept of limit: what--cognitive, physical, philosophical--categories delimit the guesswork in resolving ambiguous statements? And how does, for example, computer science deal with this versus the philosophy of Hegel? These and more questions eventually lead my research towards an analysis of the concept of function, and eventually that of reason (if I ever get there!).
As far as research output goes I've been pretty active. For the past two years I've participated in several conferences: the Ernst Mach annual workshop in Prague "The Metaphysics and Ethics of AI", during which I was also interviewed about my project for the Czech national radio. I've also presented at the annual AI & Society conference in Cambridge, resulting in the special edition that the paper above will be published in. I have been invited to the Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behavior conference in London in 2020, which has been postponed to 2021, where I will present the second paper I mentioned. Aside from this I have been interviewed about my work and history by ARIAS, an Amsterdam-based interdisciplinary platform, as well as about my use (and abuse) of Hegel by the Erasmus Student Journal. I also took (2020) and will take part (2021) in various events at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels, and I have had several exhibitions and smaller presentations locally and internationally.
Ahh! I forgot to mention that I started my PhD with an internship at the UN Centre for AI and Robotics in The Hague. I was looking for organizations that would allow me to have an inside look at their approach to AI and ended up there, opting to avoid corporate enterprises. It was an interesting journey, we accomplished quite a lot in terms of providing world leaders some exposure to the nature of disruptive technologies, as well as raising awareness about the importance of AI in the world of tomorrow. But, in the end, I came out more disappointed than I had expected. The world of world powers is a challenging one for a philosopher: there's not enough time for metaphors, ambiguities and careful, analytical thought. And, besides that, it is deeply entrenched with the corporate world, which I very much wanted to avoid.