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The Uselessness of Useful Knowledge

By Quanta Magazine

October 21, 2021

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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?

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