Software as magic

Jakob Nielsen's 9 Dec 2002 issue of Alertbox compares software to the world of magic as described in the Harry Potter series. Although Nielsen is not the first to make the comparison to magic (see Vernor Vinge's excellent novella True Names), I liked this insight:

In the Harry Potter books, the population consists of two distinct groups — a small group of wizards, and a much larger group of Muggles (standard-issue humans) who know nothing about magic or the dealings of wizards.

Similarly, in our world, the vast majority of people don't understand computers or technology. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once said that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Unfortunately, computers and the Internet are this "advanced technology" as far as most people are concerned. Things appear on their screens, computers deliver the desired results, and how it happens is all just so much magic.

In the Harry Potter books, the ethical wizards have agreed to leave the Muggles alone and not do magic tricks on them. It seems that computer wizards have something to learn from Harry Potter, because they often use their power in ways that are harmful to regular people.

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