Computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum was there at the dawn of artificial intelligence—but he was also adamant that we must never confuse computers with humans:

Today, the view that artificial intelligence poses some kind of threat is no longer a minority position among those working on it. There are different opinions on which risks we should be most worried about, but many prominent researchers, from Timnit Gebru to Geoffrey Hinton—both ex-Google computer scientists—share the basic view that the technology can be toxic. Weizenbaum’s pessimism made him a lonely figure among computer scientists during the last three decades of his life; he would be less lonely in 2023.

There is so much in Weizenbaum’s thinking that is urgently relevant now. Perhaps his most fundamental heresy was the belief that the computer revolution, which Weizenbaum not only lived through but centrally participated in, was actually a counter-revolution. It strengthened repressive power structures instead of upending them. It constricted rather than enlarged our humanity, prompting people to think of themselves as little more than machines. By ceding so many decisions to computers, he thought, we had created a world that was more unequal and less rational, in which the richness of human reason had been flattened into the senseless routines of code.

Weizenbaum liked to say that every person is the product of a particular history. His ideas bear the imprint of his own particular history, which was shaped above all by the atrocities of the 20th century and the demands of his personal demons. Computers came naturally to him. The hard part, he said, was life.