This morning’s Observer column:
”Any sufficiently advanced technology,” wrote the sci-fi eminence grise Arthur C Clarke, “is indistinguishable from magic.” This quotation, endlessly recycled by tech boosters, is possibly the most pernicious utterance Clarke ever made because it encourages hypnotised wonderment and disables our critical faculties. For if something is “magic” then by definition it is inexplicable. There’s no point in asking questions about it; just accept it for what it is, lie back and suspend disbelief.
Currently, the technology that most attracts magical thinking is artificial intelligence (AI). Enthusiasts portray it as the most important thing since the invention of the wheel. Pessimists view it as an existential threat to humanity: the first “superintelligent” machine we build will be the beginning of the end for humankind; the only question thereafter will be whether smart machines will keep us as pets.
In both cases there seems to be an inverse correlation between the intensity of people’s convictions about AI and their actual knowledge of the technology…