Spring cleaning

At times, all we need to do is dust off the meaning of words. In English, the word vacuum cleaner contains a reference to an empty space which, in a way, describes the mental state of those who are asking themselves where artificial intelligence is going to lead. Who knows if we’ll manage to turn this soufflé into something edible or if it’s going to collapse inside the oven… 

An Italian don, Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at Oxford University, has provided a rudder to steer us. In short, Floridi makes a distinction between syntax and semantics, which as we know deal with meaning, suggesting that every new idea is a fruit salad made up of the right ingredients (some of which tossed in by pure chance), plus a dash of coincidence: a process that links Newton’s apple to panettone, and will probably remain an all-human domain for a long time to come.

AI comes across as more reassuring if we think of it as a data vacuum cleaner, sucking up valuable time as required. With spring well underway and Easter over, how far have you got with your cleaning? Raise your hand if you’re not already asking a robot.