In the latest DOS Won't Hunt: Policy on AI usage continues to evolve, but should it go further and borrow a page from Frank Herbert’s landmark story?

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Editor

July 31, 2023

In November, the second half of the movie adaption of “Dune” will hit theaters, returning to a fictional setting some 20,000 years in a future bereft of AI -- in fact thinking machines are banned outright.

While it seems little more than a piece of worldbuilding in a story, the hostile stance against computers and AI in “Dune” is connected to themes of furthering human potential over artificial constructs. Without getting into spoilers just yet, the issue with thinking machines stemmed from a conflict that reshaped humanity’s relationship with technology. A few other science fiction settings -- such as “Warhammer: 40,000” -- have borrowed this trope where AI is banned, but is it necessary to vilify such technology in order to control it?

The private and public sectors in the real world continue to debate if and how AI should be regulated, with major tech companies recently agreeing to enact safeguards on AI at the behest of the Biden Administration. Even with such a meeting of the minds, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating OpenAI’s ChatGPT for potential violations of consumer protection laws. Meanwhile, the European Union wants to get its AI Act done by year’s end, which would include requirements of transparency in AI usage and bans on such “unacceptable risks” as the use of AI to manipulate cognitive behavior or for real-time biometric identification.

There will be regulated governance of AI, one way or the other, aimed largely at protecting personal information and restricting the influence AI might have over the public’s decision-making capabilities.

If AI can be such a potential threat, why not ban it completely? Are the benefits of the technology so great that they outweigh possible harms to the public? Would bans even be enforceable, given the ready access to devices that will absolutely connect to ubiquitous, omnipresent AI?

In the context of “Dune,” reliance on AI is presented as a dark era in human history that included harms far beyond data manipulation. Will establishing sensible, real-world regulations now avert potential AI catastrophes later?

Let’s take a glimpse at a couple of fictional futures without AI.

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About the Author(s)

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth

Senior Editor

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth covers tech policy, including ethics, privacy, legislation, and risk; fintech; code strategy; and cloud & edge computing for InformationWeek. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years, reporting on business and technology first in New Jersey, then covering the New York tech startup community, and later as a freelancer for such outlets as TheStreet, Investopedia, and Street Fight. Follow him on Twitter: @jpruth.

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