In Smarter Planet or Wiser Earth: Dialogue and Collaboration in the Era of Artificial Intelligence (Producciones de La Hamaca, 2023), Cox explores approaches to AI that could contribute to a better world. He challenges the current ways of thinking around AI that strictly prioritize intelligence, or a “smarter planet,” premising that we’re missing out on many powerful forms of reasoning that could help make life more just, convivial, ecologically sustainable, and spiritually nourishing.

With the right kind of framework, Cox demonstrates, AI could help solve existential threats from ecological collapse, climate change, wars of mutually assured destruction, and out of control technology. He describes his book as being for many different audiences and hopes it can inspire people from economists to computer programers to Christians during this critical time.

“We are not just at a pivot point in all of this, we are at a dramatic transition… because these black boxes of AI that we don’t really understand are being adopted by hundreds of millions of people and they are being built into the software people use in their everyday lives,” Cox says. “We must shift to new forms of programming that draw on collaborative dialogue.”

The book draws on contemporary research on conflict resolution and peacemaking including Quaker, Gandhian, Indigenous, and other traditions of collaborative reasoning and ethical choice. As might be expected from anyone who has taken a class with him, Cox also infuses his treatise with many stories, anecdotes, and songs to help illustrate his points. In the beginning, for instance, he asks us to begin wrestling with these dense and challenging topics and invites us with a song to take a deep breath and slow right down.

College of the Atlantic professor Gray Cox teaches courses in the history of philosophy, ethics, ...College of the Atlantic professor Gray Cox teaches courses in the history of philosophy, ethics, social and political philosophy, peace and conflict, sustainability, and language learning.One of the main themes Cox explores in the book is the idea of dialogical negotiation in contrast to monological inference. Dialogical negotiations, such as those used by the collaborative traditions, use a human-ecological approach, Cox says, that leads to humane solutions within context, while monological inference follows algorithms that are opposed to reaching consensus and instead seek the “smartest” solution. The former can lead to better living conditions for all. Because they focus on just one or a few goals for their “smart” systems, the latter, he argues, most typically only exacerbate the many problems that people face.

“The book is about figuring out what dialogical reasoning is and exploring how we might be able to put that into machines, including a set of principles and examples of how you would do it,” Cox says. “It is something that most people doing research in AI haven’t gotten very far with, in certain respects, because they just don’t have this idea that there is a second kind of reasoning. They grew up in a STEM educational system focused on sciences and they assume that rationality is what logicians do.”

Cox is excited to share and continue to have conversations around the themes he highlights in his book. In the fall 2022, he was invited as the keynote speaker for the 12th Annual NIC.br Workshop on Survey Methodology in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In fall 2023, he gave talks at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, the Society for Human Ecology Conference in Tucson, Arizona, Quaker Earthcare Witness, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, and six other groups in Mexico including the Cybercrimes Unit for the State Attorney General’s Office in Yucatán.

Cox teaches courses in philosophy, peace studies, language learning, and artificial intelligence at COA. He is a cofounder and current clerk of the Quaker Institute for the Future. His books include The Will at the Crossroads: A Reconstruction of Kant’s Moral Philosophy (University Press of America, 1984), The Ways of Peace: A Philosophy of Peace as Action (Paulist Pr, 1986), and A Quaker Approach to Research: Communal Discernment and Collaborative Practice (Producciones de la Hamaca, 2014). As a singer/songwriter, he has also recorded a series of albums available at graycox.bandcamp.com. He blogs occasional pieces at breathonthewater.com. The music for his latest book as well as a Creative Commons version in PDF is available at www.smarterplanetorwiserearth.com.