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Policymakers, Don’t Take Your Clues from “Techno-pocalypse” Movies

Movies capture the popular imagination, mirroring society’s hopes and fears. But science fiction is exactly what the name describes: fiction. It is meant to bring enjoyment to the viewer, and these wild depictures of technology run amok should not affect policy decisions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

For example, take concerns about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, a number of prominent scientists and well-known luminaries have warned that in the not-so-distant future, humans could lose control of AI, thus creating an existential threat for humanity. This paranoia about evil machines has swirled around popular culture for more than 200 years, and these claims continue to grip the popular imagination. In fact, one 2015 study found 22 percent of U.S. adults are afraid of AI (which is more than fear death), despite no evidence that this technology is anywhere near being as sophisticated as it is portrayed in movies.

But policymakers should not use science fiction films to guide their understanding of science and technology. For example, at a 2013 Senate hearing about threats from space, a senator cited the movie Armageddon—where a team of astronauts try to

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