Student-developed AI chatbot opens Yale philosopher’s works to all

The public is often closed off from scholarly perspectives on the potential benefits of generative artificial intelligence (AI). Studies often reside behind pricey paywalls. And even if they are accessible, they are frequently written in esoteric language that non-academics struggle to parse.

Nicolas Gertler, a first-year student in Yale College, saw a potential solution to these obstacles, through generative AI’s own capabilities.

Gertler, a research assistant at Yale’s Digital Ethics Center (DEC), has spearheaded an experiment using generative AI to make bodies of knowledge broadly accessible. With Rithvik “Ricky” Sabnekar, a high school junior and skilled developer from Texas, he created the Luciano Floridi Bot, also known as LuFlot, a free AI-powered online educational tool designed to foster engagement with the works of Yale philosopher and DEC Director Luciano Floridi, a pioneer in the philosophy of information and one of the most-cited living philosophers.

The developers believe it’s the first time a chatbot has been trained on an academic’s corpus of literature and released to the public for free.

“The idea was to democratize access to Professor Floridi’s work,” Gertler said, who undertook the project after discussing its possibilities with Floridi. “The issues he has written about touch everyone’s lives, and more and more people are becoming aware of AI. LuFlot provides an AI-driven platform for much broader engagement with the ethical questions surrounding this transformative technology.”

Meant to facilitate teaching and learning, the chatbot is trained on all the books that Floridi has published over his more than 30-year academic career. Within seconds of receiving a query, it provides users detailed and easily digestible answers drawn from this vast work.

It’s able to synthesize information from multiple sources, finding links between works that even Floridi might not have considered.

The tool features in-text citations, allowing users to trace the origins of the information provided directly to the original texts. If asked a question outside its knowledge base, the bot will politely respond that the query falls outside the scope of Floridi’s expertise. But relevant questions receive prompt and thorough answers. For example, a question asking how to use AI ethically quickly generated a clear, eight-point response with sources cited.

The interface also allows users to ask follow-up questions.

“Anyone, regardless of their knowledge of AI, can visit the website, ask a question, and have a conversation with the founder of the philosophy of information,” Gertler said. “I think that’s remarkable.”

The tool warns users to evaluate its answers critically, as it may generate incorrect or biased information.

Floridi, professor in the practice in the Cognitive Science Program in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is impressed by the chatbot and its young developers.

“The center is focused on the impact of digital technology and the ethics of AI, so it makes a lot of sense to have a bot available to answer people’s questions,” Floridi said. “The bot is an amazing tool. Nicolas and Ricky deserve all the credit. I’m just the supporting band.”

He has also become a user. For background on a paper he is writing, Floridi asked the chatbot about asymmetry between good and evil.

“It gave me an amazing answer, accurately referencing concepts and ideas I had completely forgotten that I’d written about,” he said. “It can instantly draw interesting connections between something I published last year and something I published in 1991, which is incredible.”

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Image credit: Image by fullvector on Freepik

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