Sci-fi and the perils of artificial intelligence

Sir, I sometimes think that reading science fiction should be a prerequisite for the chief executives of technology-based companies. It certainly seems to be the spark that started many lower-level employees along the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) path. Your report “The human power driving engines of ‘robo-cars’ ” (July 10) reminded me of Rick Cook’s 1989 novel Limbo System (the author is possibly better known for his humorous “Wiz” series). Two points from the novel strike me in respect of your report. The first is that the computer programmers of the starship are quite convinced that their personal death doesn’t matter, because they will simply “get another go”, as they do in the computer games they play. The second is that they are the artificial intelligence that adapt the computer translation software on a daily basis. The aliens have single portmanteau words that carry a lot of meanings, and only the computer programmers know the exact meanings of the words in the aliens’ language. The crux of the story is a senior starship commander realising that the human word “friend” translates as “an enemy who has not yet revealed himself”. Would you want to rely, for diplomatic negotiation, on…

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