Can AI be a good thing? A try by Ruth E. Hagengruber

A reflection on "Out of the Box – into the Green and the Blue" (2021)

Can AI be a good thing? A try

“Around 1500, a century on the verge of a new age – comparable in part to ours, as the age of the multiplication of knowledge was about to arise and the new printing technique changed the world of texts, knowledge and images – the collapse of Aristotle’s knowledge hierarchies was prominently depicted in Hans-Baldung Grien’s woodcut, “Phyllis riding Aristotle”. It was by no means a singular event, but “re-produced” a thousand times in a thousand styles. It was the evidence that the “boxes” of dominion had been turned upside down.” (Hagengruber 2021, 122)


The paper Out of the Box – into the Green and the Blue (Hagengruber 2021) asks how political thinking and practice in a mature information society can be patterned. Floridi brands his view as a »naïve« approach if »forward« is a return to naivety. »This shift, he holds, is more flexible, inclusive, and unbounded« (Floridi 2020, 316).How does artificial intelligence help to support the good we are striving for? The good defined and asked for is not a new God, it is the understanding of being interrelated. To know more is the only way to follow the good and to do better.

When we apply these ideas to the realm of economics they become clearer, as so many of the failings of capitalism are due exactly to this ignorance and lack of information. The idea that the implicit ethics of an information society can perform a turn from quantitative economic growth theories towards a »new« economics of quality is therefore justified. Though the application of AI has disruptive effects on the economy and society and demonstrates a new kind of monopoly and economic concentration and has deepened the gap between developed and developing countries up to today, it is not absurd to ask if informed economics has a favorable effect on economics when drafted on the above basis. The question of how to sketch an inclusive and sustainable technological change is a necessary demand on the possibilities of AI: inclusive, sustainable and paying attention to human’s nestedness.

We all understand and have long been confronted with the absurdity of a growth economy. Robert Kennedy’s famous speech on how we count and what we produce for the wealth of a nation caricatured this reality many years ago. Yes, AI driven economics can be used and can contribute to the much needed market transparency, always blurred by social and capitalist hierarchies, to end or to reduce the impact on the environment and the effects of exploitation. The Big Data administration has the capacity to unveil those secrets of »hidden economics«, that have been active in the economic background and whose effects have been so misunderstood and misjudged as being non-important parts of it, therefore ignored and negated.

AI has the capacity to provide the means to enforce the change from a quantitative to a qualitative economics and to support a more inclusive and a more qualitative growth. Decisions made in economics can become more transparent, taking relatedness into account in the decisions that define the economic process and that influence its effects. The question is, how can informed interrelatedness make the still hidden but relevant processes visible and, even more, eventually bring them into an accountable context to drive a change for the better?

The neo-classicists and those driven by the phantom of an economic »objectivity« ignored the »value« factors and prominently and actively argued to deny, ignore and expel them wherever they became visible. Max Weber argued that value-driven subjectivity was irrational. According to Max Weber, macroeconomics and price stabil ity require destroying and discarding food. Value-driven subjectivity abhors and forbids these actions that, however, cannot be part of an objective economics which must ignore these subjective factors of irrationalism and morality. Max Weber, of course, was not the only one to hold this belief, but the one who discussed the conflicts between the objectivists and the (ir)rationalists. This ignorance and active exclusion of information, however, has its price, as we know today. Economic goods are presented in a box-world; they perform as »cut-outs«, cut off from any relation the world is nested in.

Realities that are closely involved in an economic product and related to it, in the sense of what we understand to be part of a holistic economy are actively ignored. In doing so, many relations and services are also cut off, reducing the importance of many activities and goods that are part of the good-productions, such as the services for people, mostly done by women, the service of good education, of growth relation and much more. As an ignored part of the production of goods, the ignored though interrelated parts are visible today. This refers to the economic impact of forests lost, pollution, the toxification of the environment, of animals and of ourselves. The supporting issues of the economic processes, such as forests erased, the servitude of women, white predominance, healthy or unhealthy food, are not taken into account when production costs are calculated. This ignorance leads to situations of human, animal and environmental exploitation. All these issues were judged as not relevant for the production process; now, in the age of an information society they are pulled out of the box to make us understand the causes of our ignorance and consequently our wrong-doing.

»Good economics« is compatible with the world of the Green and the Blue, and artificial intelligence and the means it provides is a powerful tool to support our changing path in this new direction. This new direction is not a different goal, but a different methodology to better understand. It is better, as it promises to be even closer to reality, the more we include our information about the the Green and the Blue. The more we are able to understand our interrelatedness, the more we will be able to organize our reality differently.

Hazel Kyrk, Professor of Home Economics, was at the beginning of that movement when she started to preach that waste management is a part of economics. She is not the only one who understood and recognized that »waste« is a productive resource. Methodologically, she understood that the production of economic goods is not the only side of the coin. Today, waste economics is not only one of the most productive aspects of economics in the world, but also a necessary field for a wholistic economic understanding (Van Velzen 2003).

Another important factor that easily demonstrates effects of a qualitative information gain is warehousing. Big data will not only enable us to improve the circulation of goods, but also provides for a much larger and more detailed and individualized scale of products. This can already be seen in the field of individualized medicine and drugs. When the goods provided in this new economy are produced by taking into account the production interrelatedness – and this means how people are treated and goods are provided, with a view to the whole chain of production and procurement – this economy not only produces under fairer production conditions; it also contributes to a much truer cost calculation. Everything has a price: service, education, the protection of the environment. A well informed Information [133] Society has the capacity to see and understand this. Over-production, super-logistics, pollution, and exploitation are becoming topics of awareness and can be handled differently when the data is permanently connected in a way we are aware of.

To better understand the interrelatedness and interdependency and to start from that basis to work towards the good in society is the next goal.



Floridi  (2020), »The Green and the Blue. A New Political Ontology of a Mature Information Society«, in: Philosophisches Jahrbuch 127(2), 307–338.

Gries, T. (2020), »A New Theory of Demand-Restricted Growth: The Basic Idea«, in: The American Economist 65(1), 11 -27.

Hagengruber, R.E. (2021), »Out of the Box – into the Green and the Blue«, in: Philosophisches Jahrbuch 128. Jahrgang I/2021. München: Karl Alber, 2021, 122–134.

Rand, A. (1990), »Global Balkanization«, in: The Voice of Reason. Essays in Objectivist Thought, New York, 115–129.

Smith, B. (1995), »Formal Ontology, Common Sense and Cognitive Science«, in: International Journal of Human Computer Studies 43, 641–667.

Van Velzen, S. (1990), »Hazel Kyrk and the ethics of consumption«, in: D. K. Barker/E. Kuiper (eds), Toward a feminist philosophy of economics, London, 38–55.

Weber, M. (1991), »Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit der soziologischen und ökonomischen Wissenschaften«, in: Schriften zur Wissenschaftslehre, Stuttgart, 176–237.

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