In 2019, Springer Nature published its first machine-generated book, on Lithium-Ion Batteries. In place of an author, the book’s cover is adorned with the name of an algorithm: Beta Writer. As Springer Nature put it, the “book prototype provides an overview of the latest research in the rapidly growing field of lithium-ion batteries’, adding that it ‘aims at helping researchers to manage the information overload in this discipline efficiently.”
What has been hailed as a sensation in the public is not at all surprising. It has long been known before that AI can write books, and that it can do it more cheaply than a real human academic. However, a crucial question is if this is a way of advancing knowledge, understanding and an exercise in critical thinking, or if it is merely a mechanical packaging and distribution system, an attempt at automated information cataloguing and repackaging.
It is tempting to imagine what would happen if we use Beta Writer in order to write a text on philosophy or logic and it’s history, let’s say, a very short introduction. Why? Because philosophy aims to study and resolve general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, body and mind, thought and language? Or because philosophy encompassed all bodies of knowledge and all areas of science, at least from a historical point of view? No, not at all. That wouldn’t be much of a challenge for Beta Writer. The big challenge for Beta Writer would be to write such an introduction in a gender-sensitive and anti-discriminatory way. This is a challenge that also continuously confronts the individual scientist and academic writer. Algorithms just reproduce gender stereotypes and canonized readings for which we, the scientific communities, are responsible. That’s not to say that future machine-generated books could not “de-biased”, but it’s important to keep in mind that the technology won’t be a solution to fundamental challenges of gender fairness and discrimination. It is up to us to use these techniques to uncover gender stereotypes and canonized readings. This is one of the lessons we can learn from feminist philosophy of science, which deconstructed a naïve conception of science as a rigorously neutral and objective enterprise.
Over the past decades, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science. In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is implemented by UNESCO and UN-Women, in collaboration institutions and civil society partners that aim to promote women and girls in science. Just three days after that, on January 14, UNESCO annually celebrates the World Logic Day. The proclamation of World Logic Day by UNESCO, in association with the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH), intends to bring the intellectual history, conceptual significance and practical implications of logic to the attention of interdisciplinary science communities and the broader public. Furthermore, the celebration of World Logic Day also contributes to the promotion of a culture of peace, dialogue and mutual understanding, based on the advancement of education and science. These are, without a doubt, ambitious goals.
Recognizing and honoring the role of women in logic, as agents of change, was the declared goal of the workshop “Female Logicians: Their Impact on Modern logic” that took place virtually at the FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, on February 14 of this year. The workshop was organized by Jens Lemanski and Andrea Reichenberger, together with Claudia Anger, who is doing her PhD in logic. The program included presentations by researchers from Germany, the USA and the UK, who critically discussed the extraordinary role of female logicians in the history and philosophy of logic, advocating at the same time for gender equality in order to make logic more open, diverse and effective. In this way, technical know-how was combined with interdisciplinary research, problem-solving and social competencies. To name a few examples: Charles Sanders Peirce gave Christine Ladd-Franklin’s Algebra of Logic a prominent place in Studies in Logic, which he edited and published in 1883. Today, the American philosopher, mathematician and pragmatist feminist Christine Ladd-Franklin, whose intellectual achievements had been marginalized for a long time, is rediscovered in the history of logic. Another example: Compared to the “logical heroes” like Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein Margaret Masterman’s early work on logic, language and machine translation or Alice Ambrose role in Postwar US Women’s Education are so far almost unknown. Not to mention Ruth Barcan Marcus’ works on modal logic or Val Plumwood’s contributions to paraconsistent logic.
The highlight was a panel discussion with Francine F. Abeles (Kean University, NJ, USA), Carolin Antos-Kuby (University of Konstanz) and Ursula Martin (University of Edinburgh, Wadham College Oxford, UK). Francine F. Abeles was Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Kean University in Union, NJ, USA and head of the graduate programs (master’s level) in mathematics, computing, statistics, and mathematics education. She has co-edited a proceedings of the Canadian Society for The History and Philosophy of Mathematics, and edited three volumes in the pamphlets of Lewis Carroll series for the University Press of Virginia. She is the author of nearly one hundred papers in journals on topics in geometry, number theory, voting theory, linear algebra, logic, and their history. Particularly noteworthy is her co-editorship of the book Modern Logic 1850–1950, East and West (2016), together with Mark E. Fuller, now emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin at Janesville.
Ursula Martin is a Professor at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh and a Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College Oxford. She is best known for her works on Ada Lovelace and her activities aimed at encouraging women in the fields of computing and mathematics. She works at the interface of mathematics and computer science, where her contributions include an explanation of the power of logic for reasoning about practical systems with feedback, and results linking randomness and symmetry. Carolin Antos-Kuby is a Juniorprofessorin (Assistant Professor) in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Konstanz and a Research Fellow at the Zukunftskolleg. She is working in the philosophy of mathematics and logic, with a focus on forcing as a mathematical technique and a philosophical concept.
“Integrating women into the history of logic represents an important contribution to gender sensitivity and diversity in research and teaching,”
says Dr. Andrea Reichenberger. In the past, women thinkers usually had a hard time, explains PD Dr. Jens Lemanski:
“The contribution of women logicians has been almost systematically marginalized and ignored in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many results of female logicians were published only years later or they were presented as achievements of their male colleagues.”
Both researchers are consequently promoting a new perspective:
“It’s not about countering a male cult of genius with a female one, but about a revised understanding of what logic was and is: a collective enterprise,”
“And it’s about examining the contributions of women as part of knowledge cultures and scientific communities in logic and its history.” Rewriting the past, she said, helps create a more equal future.
This piece has been originally published in German on the Gender Blog