Prof. Jan Cornelius Schmidt

KHK Senior Fellow 10/22–09/23

Jan Cornelius Schmidt is physicist (Ph.D.) and philosopher (Habilitation). Since 2008 he has been Professor of Philosophy of Science and Technology at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Previously, he was junior researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Physics, Mainz, as well as at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Technology, Darmstadt, and Associate Professor for Philosophy of Technology at Georgia Tech, Atlanta. He was invited Guest and Stand-In-Professor at Universities in Jena, Klagenfurt and Vienna. Schmidt serves on the scientific advisory board of the Transdisciplinarity Net, Swiss Academies of Sciences, Berne, and he is member of the scientific advisory board of the Journal for Technology Assessment in Theory and Practice. His research interests encompass philosophy and history of science and technology; science and technology studies; technology assessment; science, engineering and sustainability ethics; concepts of inter- and transdisciplinarity; and complex systems, nonlinear dynamics, chaos and self-organization theories.

The Transformative Potential of Artificial Intelligence

On the shift of research cultures induced by artificial intelligence and machine learning in climate research, high energy physics and biomedical sciences:

Are we on the way to creating an “engine for scientific discovery”? Will “an AI system win the Nobel Prize” (Kitano)? – Although the majority of narratives in public and scientific discourses are nothing but exaggerations fueling techno-optimistic hypes and Baconian hopes, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) constitute, admittedly, a rapidly growing field with a huge potential to transform the sciences and their research cultures. Based on three case studies and a systemic approach to the “ontological structure” of AI- and ML-procedures, this project addresses the following questions:

  1. Can we construct an appropriate reference frame in order to diagnose the recent transformation? I.e., can we characterize traditional modern science by core characteristics such as predictability, experimental (re-)producibility, testability, and explainablity? Which of these characteristics change in AI- and ML-driven research—and to what extent? What role does causation play? Does correlation supersede causation? Is a new interventionist causation emerging? Do we experience an end of theory—and are certain types of inductivism and empiricism succeeding?
  2. What are the new objects that are accessible by AI and ML—and that have hardly been researchable and controllable by traditional modern science? In which regard are they complex, self-organizing, nonlinear and sensitive? Do complex system theories, including self-organization and chaos theories help us to capture these objects “ontologically”?
  3. What kind of instruments, things or objects are AI- and ML-algorithms? Can we frame them also as objects that are complex, self-organizing and sensitive? In which regard and why remain these objects a black box? Is explainable AI (XAI) an option to overcome opacity?
  4. More generally, do we experience an AI- and ML-driven shift in the technoscientific core of advanced technology? Is a novel kind of late-modern or trans-classic technology emerging?

The overall aim of the project is to argue that we are experiencing a methodological, structure-scientific epochal break: an extension of the traditional modern type of research towards a new late-modern regime.

Publications (selection)

Schmidt, Jan Cornelius. 2022. Philosophy of Interdisciplinarity. Studies in Science, Society and Sustainability; London: Routledge (Series in the Philosophy and History of Technosciences).

Schmidt, Jan Cornelius. 2021. Wandel und Kontinuität von Wissenschaft durch KI. Zur aktuellen Veränderung des Wissenschafts- und Technikverständnisse. In: Gethmann, C.F. et al. (ed.): Künstliche Intelligenz in der Forschung. Neue Möglichkeiten und Herausforderungen für die Wissenschaft. Springer: Heidelberg/New York. (Open Access)

Schmidt, Jan Cornelius. 2020. Tracing the Technoscientific Core of Late-Modern Technologies in TechnoScienceSocieties. In Maasen, S., Dickel, S. and Schneider, C. (eds.): TechnoScienceSociety. Technological Reconfigurations of Science and Society (Sociology ofthe Sciences Yearbook 30). Springer: Cham, pp. 35-56.

Schmidt, Jan Cornelius. 2016. Towards a Prospective Technology Assessment of Synthetic Biology. Fundamental and Propaedeutic Reflections in order to enable an Early Assessment. In Science and Engineering Ethics 22(4): pp. 1151-1170.

Schmidt, Jan Cornelius. 2015. Das Andere der Natur. Neue Wege zur Naturphilosophie; Stuttgart: Hirzel.