Raving madmen do not aid AI debate

September 28, 2001

Films such as Steven Spielberg's AI , released last weekend, run the risk of doing a disservice to science, according to an expert in the field.

Linda Hitchin, senior lecturer in the Lincoln School of Management at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, said that science-fiction films such as AI could bring benefits by stimulating a broad debate on the ethics of artificial intelligence.

But often they missed this opportunity by portraying scientists as raving madmen running amok in laboratories.

"These films can ask us to think about what it is to be human.

"What disturbed me about AI was the lack of depth and muddled approach to the subject. We should be questioning artificial intelligence and asking whether it is possible to develop sentient machines that are indistinguishable from humans."

Dr Hitchin, who was a software engineer before her academic career, said she that did not believe this would be achievable or desirable - an unwelcome progress to the "science of the God".

"But an important function of this research is to encourage students to think deeply about how technologies are breaking boundaries between human and machine.

"We already have humans who are part mechanical and much of our lives is structured by the tasks we delegate to machines," she said.

Dr Hitchin is writing a book based on ethnographic research around a BBC children's series - The Demon Headmaster: Representing AI in Childhood .

Email: lhitchin@lincoln.ac.uk

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