Tag: Niall Ferguson

Insh-AI: WOTF on Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 14 February, 2018 0 Comments

Back in November last year, Wired ran an article titled Inside The First Church of Artificial Intelligence. The writer, Mark Harris, introduced readers to Anthony Levandowski, the “unlikely prophet” of a new religion of artificial intelligence called Way of the Future (WOTF). Levandowski’s church, we learn, will focus on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Last Sunday in the Sunday Times, Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, asked “Shall we begin to worship the machines — to propitiate them with prayers, or even sacrifices?” And, provocatively proposed: “Perhaps we shall need to devise an AI equivalent of “Inshallah” — Insh-AI, perhaps.” Ferguson’s syndicated column has the oddly banal title, The machines ate my homework, but it offers food for serious thought, especially today, Ash Wednesday. Ashes to ashes AI, he says, is all about “getting computers to think like a species that had evolved brains much bigger than humans — in other words, not like humans at all.” One consequence of this might be to “return humanity to the old world of mystery and magic. As machine learning steadily replaces human judgment, we shall find ourselves as baffled by events as our pre-modern forefathers were.”

What will become of us then? Will we, in despair, in hope, follow WOFT? Ferguson quotes the German sociologist Max Weber who argued that modernity replaced mystery with rationalism and as a result people “said goodbye to magic and entered an ‘iron cage’ of rationality and bureaucracy.” If AI leads to a re-mystification of the world and a revival of magical thinking, Ferguson knows what he’s going to do: “I’m staying put in Weber’s iron cage,” he says.

But you can’t put ashes on an AI and not everyone aspires to being caged.


And don’t you come back no more, no more

Monday, 20 August, 2012

“It is a sign of just how completely Barack Obama has ‘lost his narrative’ since getting elected that the best case he has yet made for reelection is that Mitt Romney should not be president. In his notorious ‘you didn’t build that’ speech, Obama listed what he considers the greatest achievements of big government: the […]

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