Arguing Artificially: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Debates That Have Shaped Cognitive Science. (Focus on Research)

By Gibson, Keith | Business Communication Quarterly, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Arguing Artificially: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Debates That Have Shaped Cognitive Science. (Focus on Research)


Gibson, Keith, Business Communication Quarterly


ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is a term that often conjures images of HAL's refusal to open the pod bay doors or Deep Blue winning the world chess championship. But artificial intelligence (or Al) is not a phenomenon restricted to science fiction movies and chess tournaments; it has rapidly, if silently, become a fixture of daily life. And even those who do not spend their days in a cognitive science lab need some sense of ownership and participation in a technology that is increasingly present in everyone's lives. The public must be prepared to participate in the discussions that will certainly take place on this topic in the near future, and a solid rhetorical analysis of the debates in artificial intelligence will offer this preparation. In Arguing Artificially, I conduct such an analysis.

This rhetorical analysis of the history of artificial intelligence research is the body of my dissertation. My project responds to the aforementioned concerns of a general audience, but the chief exigencies are academic ones. Specifically, this dissertation responds to scholarly needs in three areas: the rhetorical nature of science, the social construction of scientific knowledge, and the rhetorical strategies used in AI.

Literature Review

The first exigence for my dissertation is the debate surrounding the place of rhetoric in science. Rhetoric of science scholars is currently divided over the extent to which science is a rhetorical enterprise. Alan Gross leads a contingency that believes in what he calls a "rhetoric of science without constraints"; in this view, "there is no line that can successfully be drawn between rhetoric and science" (Gross, "Constraints," p. 285). Others, such as Richard Cherwitz, Trevor Melia and J.E. McGuire, argue that, though rhetoric is useful and even vital in explaining science, there lies beneath some reality, some Burkean "recalcitrance," that persists regardless of what we say about it. My project adds to this debate by investigating the appropriateness of the Aristotelian division between demonstration--"when the premises from which the deduction starts are true and primitive"--and dialectic--when "it reasons from reputable opinions" (p. 167). I argue that it is this presence of dialectical reasoning in a de monstrative world that is the province of the rhetoric of science. In Arguing Artificially, I investigate the extent to which the progress of artificial intelligence research has relied on both types; this investigation allows me to contend that the use of demonstrative reasoning is evidence for the physical recalcitrance argued for by McGuire and Melia.

My project also contributes to the current scholarly conversation regarding the social nature of scientific knowledge. In their 1979 work, Laboratory Life, Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar argued that the "facts" of science are not a real feature of our physical world, but rather agreed-upon conventions. This started a debate that has not yet concluded, and research is still being conducted to determine the validity of their claims. My work adds to this discussion with an examination of, in addition to texts, situations that have played rhetorical roles in the history of AI.

Finally, there have been, to date, no specific rhetorical analyses of artificial intelligence research, but a few scholars have treated AI history as a series of arguments, focusing on the persuasive elements that have influenced the field. Stan Franklin's Artificial Minds examines three main sites of conflict in the history of AI research: 1) the possibility, in principle, of artificially created intelligence; 2) programmed machines vs. learning machines; and 3) the role of representation. Franklin's concern is demonstrating which of the arguments are most persuasive rather than why any particular argument is such, and his work offers me credible support for my assertion that rhetoric is being used in Al. John Casti offers a similar, if abbreviated, discussion of the history of AI in his Paradigms Lost; like Franklin, he recognizes the intent of these researchers as rhetorical, providing a foundation for the project I am undertaking. …

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