From Short and Sweet AI, I’m Dr. Peper and today I’m discussing artificial intelligence and the fantastic, futuristic novel, Dune.

Intelligent technology, robots, space creatures and other supernatural worlds all live in science fiction. Much of it is dystopian with thinking, conscious machines rising up against humans and taking over and controlling the human race. But Dune gives us another option.

Dune takes place 20,000 years in the future, on Arrakis, a planet that is entirely desert. And as the political, ecological and religious battles of the great houses of Duke Leto and Baron Harkkonen and the Imperium play out, artificial intelligence is conspicuously missing. What gives? How can the best selling science fiction novel of all time not include AI?

Butlerian Jihad

Within the first few pages of the novel, we learn that in the past men used machines to control and enslave the human race. This had lead to a great war, the Butlerian Jihad. The war lasted several centuries until men defeated other men and the machines they used. In the book thinking machines, basically computers and artificial intelligence, became outlawed. Anyone recreating them was sentenced to death. It was a universal commandment: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

An often overlooked but crucial point is that the machines did not somehow enslave humans by themselves. Rather it was men controlling the machines who enslaved other men. As the book explains “Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Dune 2020

Frank Herbert who wrote Dune seems to be saying that if we let AI do our thinking, we can be controlled by the people who control the AI. As I discussed in a previous episode, we see this happening with the bias being programed into the computer algorithms. Algortihms that are used to make decisions which affect us on a daily basis. Herbert wrote Dune in 1965. This year there is mounting excitement and tremendous interest in the book. More than half a century later, it’s being made into a movie that has a fervent following. Dune fans and devotees are saying “Let us please get the Dune movie we all deserve.” Should that include a wish for thinking machines that can’t control us?

In my next episode I’ll discuss Dune’s alternative to artificial intelligence.

From Short and Sweet AI, I’m Dr. Peper

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