The Sorcerers Apprentice by Derek Selinger

Mickey Mouse Tried to Warn Us About A.I.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the most popular Disney animations of all time, based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  
In the Disney version of the story, the master magician is growing weary from performing his magic. Turning bats into butterfly’s to be precise.
He goes for a nap, leaving his hat behind.
The apprentice (Mickey) takes the hat, just to help with the task of carrying water more easily.
It works.
A broom now carries his water!
In fact it works so well that Mickey himself falls asleep, with dreams of grandeur.
When Mickey awakens, he finds that the magic broom carrying water has completely flooded the chamber.
Mickey tries to stop the broom by any means, but just makes it worse.
The broom multiplies.
Carries more water.
Until the master enters the room and quickly cleans up the magical mess.
None too happy with his apprentice of course.

This is a cautionary tale about many things:

  • Power
  • Technology
  • Magic
  • and… AI.

We have found a magic hat and donned it to accomplish tasks which are distasteful.
We have become more efficient.
We have empowered machines and processes to complete these tasks so we can do things more useful.
Like dreaming of grandeur.
And it works!
It works well actually.
But… there is a tremendous danger.
If we do not stay present with the processes, and if we do not indwell the work we have commissioned
with our mind, heart and soul … things will go wrong.
Really, really wrong.
We cannot fall asleep at the magical wheel.
We cannot allow technology to carry our “water”.
Don’t expect that which has no soul to behave as though it does.

In watching the cartoon you have to ask the questions:

  • If automating the carrying of water by magic was a good idea… why didn’t the master do that?
  • Why did he employ Mickey?
  • Why did the master not automate his whole life?
  • What did he know that Mickey didn’t?

Clearly a fair bit.
The problem we face is that there are no master magicians.
We are all a bunch of apprentices who have found a new and powerful hat.
So three practices a master magician employs, that we as apprentices needs to learn:

1) Use the power intentionally
The new found power is not a toy. Careful use and observation will ensure that utter destruction is not unleashed.

2) Use the power discriminately
The power of the hat (AI) is absolutely useful. It can help craft powerful stories and processes. But it isn’t meant for all things, at all times.
In other words. Take a break. Rest. Think.

3) Use the power wisely
Above all else our pursuit must be wisdom. Before pointing our magic we need to think carefully about the consequences.
The tool can accomplish many things.
Wisdom should be our chief interest.
After all, “Wisdom is more valuable than rubies” (Proverbs 3:15).
I believe it is critical that we consider the use of this magic very, very carefully.
Because I am not sure there is anyone around who will clean up our mess.

Derek Selinger

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