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Just Acting

Steven Weiss, software methodologist and magician, once told me, “A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” A wizard, then, must be dumb software playing the part of an intelligent actor. Even though we all know that real magic isn't real, for some reason we're prepared to believe that artificial intelligence is real when its a simulacrum on the screen.

Even experts can be credulous about on-screen pseudo-expertise in software that simulates intelligence. I once evaluated a CASE tool that included a complex expert system to automate the conversion of an analysis model, the data flow diagram, into a design model, the module structure chart. At the time, it had been through beta testing and extensive in-house use on real projects. Not one user had ever noticed that no matter how the rules were weighted or the criteria prioritized, the system always produced the same design, a trivial mechanical transformation of the input not an intelligent design, not even a very good design. The expertise of this “intelligent” software was never questioned; its recommendations had been accepted without thought or critical evaluation.


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