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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Is Artificial Intelligence Magic? | Column / Machinations - SAPIENS

Artificial intelligence can perform feats that seem like  sorcery explains, Matthew Gwynfryn Thomas, data scientist and anthropologis and Djuke Veldhuis, anthropologist and science writer.

 A flute is a technological tool with the “magical” ability to change people’s psychological states.
Photo: Judith Leyster/Wikimedia Commons
AI can drive cars and fly drones. It can compose original music, write poetry that isn’t too awful, and design recipes that do sound awful (blueberry and spinach pizza, anyone?).

AI can do some things better than humans: lip reading, diagnosing diseases such as pneumonia and some cancers, transcribing speech, and playing Jeopardy!, Go, Texas Hold ’em, and a variety of video games. AI software can even learn to make its own AI software.

It’s almost quaint to mention science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s famous adage, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Yet to the majority of people who do not understand AI’s machinations, these technologies may as well be wizardry...

AI is not an “advanced technology” in the same way as nuclear fission, lab-grown meat, hyperloops, or anything else on the bleeding edge of possibility. It’s little more than a dense thicket of math, calculated quickly. So how can math be magic?

In anthropology, magic tends to involve two elements:
    1. Manipulating symbols (through incantations, music, drawings, writing, and utterances, for example) to bring about some physical change in the world.
    2. Obtaining some ideal product or outcome without any cost or effort.
Math and artificial intelligence also manipulate symbols—numbers, letters, and computer code—to bring about change. In artificial intelligence, you take one thing (a set of inputs, such as crime statistics), manipulate those symbols in obscure and obfuscatory ways, and transform them into another thing (an output, such as guidance on where to deploy police forces and which groups of people to target).