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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

The Uselessness of Useful Knowledge

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Illustration of computer scientist working on computer in an old-fashioned lab

Modern engineers, the thinking goes, assemble their codes with the same wishful thinking and misunderstanding that the ancient alchemists had when mixing their magic potions.

Maggie Chiang for Quanta Magazine

Alchemy was not only a proto-science, but also a "hyper-science" that overpromised and underdelivered. Astrological predictions were taken so seriously that life had to adapt to theory, instead of the other way around. Unfortunately, modern society is not free from such magical thinking, putting too much confidence in omnipotent algorithms without critically questioning their logical or ethical basis.

Is artificial intelligence (AI) the new alchemy? That is, are the powerful algorithms that control so much of our lives—from internet searches to social media feeds—the modern equivalent of turning lead into gold? Moreover: Would that be such a bad thing?

From Quanta Magazine
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