That’s not AI!

Or, Sufficiently understandable magic is indistinguishable from technology.

I was talking to a friend recently about planes, and the subject of autopilot came up. Essentially, autopilot does exactly that: you take off, press a button, wait a couple hours, then land. But actually most commercial aeroplanes land themselves since the 60s. The 60s! And it works fantastically well.

In his 1959 paper John Charnley, then Superintendent of the UK Royal Aircraft Establishment’s (RAE) Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU), concluded a discussion of statistical results by saying that “It is fair to claim, therefore, that not only will the automatic system land the aircraft when the weather prevents the human pilot, it also performs the operation much more precisely”.

I said to my friend that autopilot was one of the first victories of AI. And he said, wait—is that really AI though? It’s just some fancy control algorithms!

And so it is that magic becomes technology. When we imagine living with robots in our house and our day-to-day lives we imagine this:

But the reality is this:

Which is somehow boring. When we live with a robot in our house every day, we no longer call it a “robot”, we call it a “dishwasher”. When AI flies our planes, we call it “autopilot”. Once we understand it, it stops being exciting, and robots and AI are exciting, so these things must not be robots or AI. “AI” is what we call algorithms we don’t understand yet.

You know what we call alternative medicine that works? Medicine!

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