Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology


An informal tradition in a former group was that whenever somebody bought a new car, we all went out to lunch to celebrate, but the person with the new car had to be one of the drivers.

During one of our new-car trips, the proud owner of the new car showed off its fancy features. "Check this out, this car has a voice-controlled radio: Radio, On."

The car radio turned on.

"Radio, Select KUOW."

The radio changed its station.

"Radio, louder."

The volume went up.

But this wasn't a demonstration of voice-recognition technology. It was a magic trick.

You see, the car has radio controls built into the back of the steering wheel.

[Raymond is currently away; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (12)
  1. Mott555 says:

    One of my friends has an SUV that has steering wheel radio controls. It also (unbeknownst to him) has radio controls on the back of the center console for the passengers in the back seat. His radio would sometimes mysteriously "malfunction" during road trips.

  2. MIke says:

    My grandfather played that trick on a visitor from South Africa, using his garage-door opener. (Wireless remotes were somewhat uncommon, I guess) He was found out when she said the Afrikaans word for 'clothes', and the door opened…

  3. Steve D says:

    Here's one we prepared ealier.  The aXcess concept car had this feature for real.  Hearing it fire up with a throaty roar to the command of "engine on!" was awesome.

    museumvictoria.com.au/…/motor-car-axcess-australia-concept-car-1998

  4. Carsten O says:

    I pulled a similar trick on my boss with racing game pedals hidden below my desk. I faked gesture recognition in our game. That was way before there were webcams or even USB ports.

  5. Cheong says:

    Actually, a few modern "magics" performed by magicians are with the aid of modern technologies.

  6. DaveK says:

    So, we had an open day at my school once when I was a teenager, and some of us who were involved in the computer club set up an exhibit where we had a BBC micro running an AI eliza-style chatbot.

    It talked really good conversational English, told jokes, was aware of current events, and just thoroughly wowed all the parents who saw it in operation.  Totally passed the Turing test.

    And all day long, not one of them wondered what the cable was that was coming out the back of the computer, disappearing out the window of the physics lab, running twenty feet along the outside wall and disappearing back in through the window of the seemingly-locked classroom three doors up the corridor…

  7. Tanveer Badar says:

    I guess the full saying goes something like this (copied from Rick Cook's Wizardry Compiled):

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  

    —Clarke's law

    Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable

    from technology.  

    —Murphy's reformulation of Clarke's law

    Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable

    from a rigged demonstration.  

    —programmers' restatement of Murphy's

    reformulation of Clarke

  8. Worf says:

    These days it's even easier still with WWAN and WLAN technology. Look ma, it can't be rigged. No cables!

  9. GWO says:

    I've always liked Gehm's Corollary to Clarke's Third Law: "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."

  10. Skyborne says:

    @DaveK – your comment reminds me of the chess-playing Mechanical Turk of the late 18th century.  en.wikipedia.org/…/The_Turk

  11. MS says:

    I have Microsoft's implementation of voice control in my car, and it is actually pretty darn close to magic.  You just have to know the right magic words and it will nearly always get it right.  

  12. embedded says:

    @MS: shouting control alt delete often?

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