Myths and Machines, part 2

Pontus Wärnestål
4 min readMay 20, 2024

Welcome to “Myths and Machines,” a series of opinion pieces that draw from the rich tapestry of ancient myths to explore the ethical lessons they offer for the development of artificial intelligence. Each story, from the cautionary tale of Pandora’s Box to the relentless pursuit of Sisyphus, serves as a reminder of the principles that could guide our technological endeavors.

Here is the second piece, enjoy! (Here is part 1: Prometheus.)

Pandora’s Box and AI: Unleashing Potential and Perils

In Greek mythology, the story of Pandora’s Box serves as a cautionary tale about curiosity, unintended consequences, but also hope. Pandora was given a box (or actually a jar) created by the gods and instructed never to open it. Driven by curiosity, she eventually disobeyed (of course!) and lifted the lid, unleashing all the evils of the world — disease, envy, hate, and more. By the time she managed to close the box, only Hope remained inside, offering a glimmer of solace amidst the unleashed chaos.

A painting of Pandora holding her jar, gazing at it intently. She has long red hair adorned with a floral crown, standing against a backdrop of the sea and sky.
By Lawrence Alma-Tadema —, Public Domain,

The essence of Pandora’s tale lies in its exploration of human curiosity and the unforeseen repercussions of disobedience. Pandora’s act of opening the box, despite her initial ignorance of its contents, symbolizes the pursuit of forbidden knowledge and the cascading consequences that can follow. The myth underscores the dual nature of curiosity: while it drives discovery and progress, it can also lead to irreversible harm when boundaries are crossed without understanding the full implications.

Today, the story of Pandora’s Box is strikingly relevant as we try to get a grip on artificial intelligence (AI) technology. AI, like Pandora’s box, holds immense potential to transform our world in unprecedented ways. From revolutionizing healthcare with predictive diagnostics to enhancing efficiency in industries and personalizing education, AI promises significant benefits. However, along with these promises come profound risks and ethical dilemmas. And once released, the effects cannot be put back. In Pandora’s case, mankind has been plagued by the jar’s content — sorrow, disease, vice, violence, greed, madness, old age, and death — since the day Pandora released them into the world.

The AI-driven world we are stepping into is in some ways similar to Pandora opening her jar. Algorithmic biases can perpetuate discrimination, surveillance technologies can infringe on privacy, and automated systems can displace human workers. These unintended consequences mirror the evils released from Pandora’s box, reminding us that the pursuit of technological advancement must be approached with caution and foresight. In this sense, the moral is similar to that of the first piece in this series on Prometheus.

Yet, just as Pandora found Hope at the bottom of the box, AI also holds the potential for positive outcomes and solutions to global challenges. The presence of Hope signifies resilience and the possibility of redemption even after misfortunes have been unleashed. It suggests that despite the negative impacts that may arise from technological advancements, there remains an opportunity to harness AI for good — provided we act with wisdom and responsibility.

The lesson from Pandora’s Box is clear: while the allure of AI technology is powerful and its potential benefits vast, we must be mindful of the broader consequences of its deployment. We must also realize that the effects will be with us for a long time, and it will be close to impossible to roll anything back. Policymakers, developers, and society at large must work together to establish ethical guidelines, robust safeguards, and transparent practices. By doing so, we can mitigate the risks and amplify the positive impacts of AI, ensuring it serves humanity rather than harms it.

Take-Away Messages:

The pursuit of AI technology, driven by human curiosity and ambition, must be tempered with careful consideration of its potential risks and impacts. While AI can unleash significant challenges, there remains Hope — signifying our ability to guide this powerful tool toward beneficial outcomes. Through responsible development and ethical stewardship, we can ensure that AI enhances our world without releasing uncontrollable consequences.

How is Pandora’s story different from Prometheus’? Prometheus’ tale focuses on the democratizing of transformative powers and the need for ethical stewardship in its use. Pandora’s story emphasizes the dangers of unchecked curiosity that can lead to unforeseen consequences and the importance of balancing exploration with caution to avoid unforeseen and potentially harmful consequences.

Resources: Pandora today

The EU Artificial Intelligence Act for responsible AI development.

Next up: Daedalus and Icarus

The next story explores the tale of Daedalus and Icarus. This myth offers a poignant reminder of the dangers of overambition and the importance of respecting limitations. We will draw parallels between Icarus’s ill-fated flight towards the sun and the evolution of social media’s algorithmic news feeds… Read on in part 3 –›



Pontus Wärnestål

Deputy Professor (PhD) at Halmstad University (Sweden). Father of two. I ride my bike to work.