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Thread: Clarke magic in 2019

  1. #31
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    The other alternative could be, by "indistinguishable" he means not in some absolute sense, but rather indistinguishable to the person in question, so a function of their knowledge. Then by "magic", he must mean "not possible, a trick of some kind" and by "technology", he must mean "not a trick, real." So he could be saying that if you exposed a caveperson to a magician, and to an engineer, the caveperson couldn't tell which is which.

    But I prefer the interpretation that if we stick strictly to things that are actually real, and do not involve trickery of any kind, then it's not so much that "magic" disappears, but rather, it actually becomes the same thing as technology. In technology, we can say we are invoking magnetic fields, or quantum wavefunctions-- how are either of those different from a Harry Potter spell, other than the simple fact that one happens and the other doesn't? That means magic and technology have the same nature-- there's not a fundamental difference in how they work, only whether they work.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2019-Dec-20 at 11:48 PM.

  2. #32
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    To put ourselves in the position of that caveperson, imagine the equivalent of the following "magic trick," and we can imagine that equivalent is being carried out in 2019. (Edited from what I first said to make it better.) You step into a booth that completely isolates in every way from the outside world anything you do in that booth-- no signal, nothing, gets out. Inside it is a steering wheel that you can turn to any angle you like, and a button. You turn the wheel to an angle of your choice, and push the button. Either a light that says "same" comes on, or a light that says "opposite." You step out of the booth, bringing nothing but yourself with you, and a team of scientists can use every known instrument to check all this. The magician across the room then sends a photon back to you, and you check its polarization relative to the angle you chose. You repeat this experiment/trick over and over, and every time, when the light said "same", the photon has the polarization angle you chose so always passes a polarizer at that angle, and when the light said "opposite", the photon has the opposite polarization and never passes that polarizer.

    Now you are the caveperson-- a trick or real?
    Last edited by Ken G; 2019-Dec-21 at 12:55 AM.

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    But Clarke's adage doesn't say "Any sufficiently advanced technology combined with deception can be used in stage magic".
    His example is of a scientist who is baffled and astounded because the technology being described (an atomic bomb) involves unknown physics. A skilled technologist and a knowledgeable scientist from the nineteenth century could dismantle the atomic bomb and examine its parts with being able to figure out how it worked.

    Grant Hutchison
    Ok, thanks that clears it up a bit for me. So no active deception to try to fool someone, but also no giving an explanation for the technology. Just that if a person from the 1960's saw someone using a piece of technology from today, could they explain it? Or would they be utterly baffled as to what they saw?

    I've also been thinking about what Mr. Clark said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", and I now realize that the goal isn't necessarily to convince that person to think "Yup, that must be actual magic". Rather that indistinguishable part just means that they are equally as baffled by seeing the technology as they would be by seeing a really well done stage magic trick. And going by that, I really do think that Alexa/Siri might qualify. If someone from 1960 just saw someone talking to a disembodied voice that seems to know everything, can play every song made in the history of humanity, can recommend a good sushi place close to wherever you currently are, and can give you detailed instructions on how to get there from your real time location, I really don't see them being able to come up with an answer.

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave241 View Post
    And going by that, I really do think that Alexa/Siri might qualify. If someone from 1960 just saw someone talking to a disembodied voice that seems to know everything, can play every song made in the history of humanity, can recommend a good sushi place close to wherever you currently are, and can give you detailed instructions on how to get there from your real time location, I really don't see them being able to come up with an answer.
    1960 is too recent. While someone then wouldn’t understand exactly how Alexa, etc. worked, the concepts of AI, voice recognition, and intelligent machines were not new, and were even in popular culture. See, for instance, Robby the robot in Forbidden Planet. And in the middle ‘60s there was Star Trek. In fact, Star Trek in part served as inspiration for Alexa. But there were a number of written stories as well before ‘60 with similar ideas.

    (By the way, I have at times set my Echo Dot to respond to “Computer” and it can feel eerily like I wandered into the Trek universe.)

    I can easily imagine a 1960 computer scientist having a general idea how such things would work, since they were already pursuing AI (in reality, it turned out to be substantially more difficult than they expected, and good voice recognition had to wait for much better hardware and new approaches, but the ideas were there and crude attempts were being made).

    On the other hand, there are a number of things today I would expect would baffle someone from 1900.

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