Norbert Wiener on the future of AI in 1947


Norbert Wiener (1894 – 1964) was the father of Cybernetics. When he walked into a room, it was reasonably certain that he was the smartest person in the room. Below are his prescient 1947 comments about the future of artificial intelligence, which wasn’t formally named until 1956.

…I have said that this new development has unbounded possibilities for good and for evil. … It may very well be a good thing for humanity to have the machine remove from it the need of menial and disagreeable tasks, or it may not. I do not know. …

…the first industrial revolution, the revolution of the “dark satanic mills,” was the devaluation of the human arm by the competition of machinery. … The modern industrial revolution is similarly bound to devalue the human brain, at least in its simpler and more routine decisions. … the skilled scientist and the skilled administrator may survive the second. However, taking the second revolution as accomplished, the average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that it is worth anyone’s money to buy. [emphasis added]

…Those of us who have contributed to the new science of cybernetics thus stand in a moral position which is, to say the least, not very comfortable.

Norbert Wiener, Introduction to Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, November 1947, pp. 26-28, The M. I. T . Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, second edition, © 1948, 1961.