John Naughton: How artificial intelligence outmanoeuvred the superbugs

The new antibiotic, effective against super-resistant pathogens, is proof that AI can do more than make tech giants rich

One of the seminal texts for anyone interested in technology and society is Melvin Kranzberg’s Six Laws of Technology, the first of which says that “technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral”. By this, Kranzberg meant that technology’s interaction with society is such “that technical developments frequently have environmental, social and human consequences that go far beyond the immediate purposes of the technical devices and practices themselves, and the same technology can have quite different results when introduced into different contexts or under different circumstances”.

The saloon-bar version of this is that “technology is both good and bad; it all depends on how it’s used” – a tactic that tech evangelists regularly deploy as a way of stopping the conversation. So a better way of using Kranzberg’s law is to ask a simple Latin question: Cui bono? – who benefits from any proposed or hyped technology? And, by implication, who loses?

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