Issue 72 — Down the Rabbit Hole

Lee Schneider
4 min readApr 16, 2024
500 Words banner graphic in black and white.

500 Words is a publication of FutureX.Studio.


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

Subscribe now

The quote from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is provocative, but only tells part of the story. In our age, technology has turned out not to be magic.

But we expect magic, because that’s what technology’s makers have conditioned us to expect.

The makers of technology, like good magicians, have concealed how they do their tricks. Consider that magicians stand between two worlds. They deliver wonder and surprise to their audiences, but since they know the secrets behind their tricks, they can never surprise themselves.

This is the problem with technology now: it has moved away from dreams, wonder, and magic, and into concealing the trick. Our tech wizards have become cynical about pushing their false magic on us.

A company named Humane has released a product called an AI Pin. You pin it to your shirt or blouse, talk to it, and it makes your calls, solves your problems, and projects helpful information on your hand. One problem: It doesn’t work. A critic at The Verge asked it to play “Texas Hold ‘Em” by Beyoncé, and the pin said, “Songs not found for request: Play Texas Hold ’Em by Beyonc\u00e9.”

The pin, which costs $699 with a $24/month subscription, rendered Beyoncé as “Beyonc\u00e9” and couldn’t find the track.

In 2021, an Amazon Fresh store in the UK launched an exciting new feature. It was called “Just Walk Out.” Shoppers were invited by Amazon to bag up their purchases and, “just walk out.” Amazon would email them a receipt. It supposedly used AI, facial recognition cameras, and sensors on the shelves, and it would replace human cashiers. Except that it didn’t. It worked because more than a thousand people, based in India, reviewed videos of shoppers exiting the stores and, I assume, with a lot of hitting the back button, wrote down what the shoppers bought.

We’ve been seduced by technology, and the trick’s on us. Today’s technology magic can only be performed using humans. Humans make the designs, program the software, create the art. Artificial intelligence takes the credit. Anyway, that’s what the AI companies would have us believe. The fact is that AI must be trained, and that training comes on the back of human accomplishment, ideation, and creativity. The AI companies, like OpenAI, Google, Microsoft, and Anthropic been vacuuming up e-books, blogs, podcast transcripts, digitally published museum holdings, probably your Google docs, anonymized versions of your DocuSign contracts, and still, it’s not enough training material. It becomes dated quickly; it outruns itself; there are more questions than answers.

We are now entering another stage, the first step toward an independent AI, a general artificial intelligence that can learn from itself and become smarter than we are. Some scientists believe this is far off, but already OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, and other AI makers, are experimenting with one AI training another to produce what they call “synthetic data.”

For a while, it’s certain that one AI teaching another will amplify the errors of both AI’s. But only for a while. Machines have speed and stamina that we humans lack, a brute force kind of intellect. They’ll catch up fast, if we let them.


The other “magic” part of technology is its accessibility. The internet delivers the world’s information. My phone uses AI to make great cat pictures. You get the feeling that you can do anything, as long as you have WiFi. The early internet amplified the notion of accessible knowledge, freewheeling and friendly communities, global connection. But today’s internet delivers powerful, destructive technology to middle-school and high-school kids. Using artificial intelligence, male students have fabricated nude images of their female classmates and shared the pictures around school. Natasha Singer, an excellent New York Times education tech reporter, covered this in Westfield, NJ, Beverly Hills, CA, and Seattle, WA.

Singer wrote that the male students used “nudification” apps to change real photos of their clothed female classmates into graphic, convincing-looking nudes. The boys shared the images in the lunchroom, on the bus, and through group chats on Instagram or Snapchat.

The response from school officials was sometimes decisive–detentions, expulsions–and other times weak. “Per our legal team, we are not required to report fake images to the police,” one school district responded.

We have a head start. As humans, we are creative, resourceful, and brave. We need laws, guardrails, and policies, and we need them before we come up against a brute force kind of intellect. Years from now, AI may operate independently of human control, but now it’s controlled by tech companies who aren’t all that interested in making our lives better. They’re interested in us as consumers, they’re interested in control, and they’re interested in concealing the trick.


Arthur C. Clarke Quote on CCCB Lab

Humaine.AI Website

Engadget: Humane AI Pin is the Solution to None of Technology’s Problems

Just Walk Out website

The Guardian: Amazon AI Cashier

DocuSign FAQ

Does That Mean Tech Companies Want A.I. To Be Trained by A.I.

Teen Girls Confront an Epidemic of Deepfake Nudes in Schools



Lee Schneider

Writer-producer. Founder of Red Cup Agency. Publisher of 500 Words. Co-founder of FutureX Studio. Co-founder of 3 children. Married to a goddess.