Modeling, ontology and wild thought: Toward an anthropology of the artificially intelligent

Willard McCarty


The question at the heart of this essay begins with a curious mid-twentieth-century co-occurrence in the Anglo-American world: on the one hand, of the invention and transformative spread of digital computing; on the other hand, the return from philosophical exile of “ontology” and its subsequent pluralization. What makes this co-occurrence interesting is, first, the machine’s requirement of a “model”—and so an ontology—of the domain to be affected, and second, the indeterminate nature of all digital models. Furthermore, as improvements in the technology have made the machine an ever more fit instrument of that “wily intelligence” (mẽtis) celebrated by Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant (1974), the laborious construction of models has become the agile practice of modeling—and so brought ever greater emphasis to local, experimental, shifting ontologies.


artificial intelligence, modeling, ontology, digital logic, combinatorics, anthropology

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/703872