Myths and Machines, part 7

Pontus Wärnestål
3 min readMay 20, 2024

Welcome back to part 7 of “Myths and Machines,” where we unravel the connections between ancient myth and cutting-edge technology. Today it’s time for Oepheus and Eurydice. What can we learn from this story when it comes to our discipline and the consequences of critical actions in today’s digital world?

(Previous texts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.)

Orpheus and Eurydice: The Harsh Consequences of Critical Conditions at Scale

Few stories are as poignant and haunting as that of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, a legendary musician whose melodies could charm all living things, loses his beloved wife Eurydice to an untimely death. Devastated, he resolves to journey to the Underworld to bring her back. His music softens the hearts of Hades and Persephone, the rulers of the Underworld, who agree to let Eurydice return with him on one condition: he must not look back at her until they reach the surface. Driven by love and desperation, Orpheus leads Eurydice up through the dark passageways. But as they near the surface, overcome with doubt and longing, he turns to glimpse her, only to see her vanish forever.

A painting of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, dressed in a red robe, reaches out to Eurydice, who is depicted as a ghostly figure in white. They are in a dark, rocky cave in the Underworld. Orpheus holds a lyre, symbolizing his musical talent.
By Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub — Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub, Public Domain,

This myth underscores the fragility of human achievements and the severe consequences of failing to adhere to critical conditions. It serves as a powerful allegory for the delicate balances required in technology use and data management, particularly in the era of generative AI.

The Fragility of Compliance in Data Management

When we aspire to harness the power of artificial intelligence, we navigate our own Underworld — a vast, uncharted landscape of data. Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and stringent data protection and copyright laws form the critical conditions we must observe to ensure our journey through this digital landscape is safe and ethical. However, the temptation to “just take a glimpse” into unauthorized data, or not following a certain protocol that perhaps doesn’t seem “important” or “necessary” just like Orpheus’s fateful glance, is ever-present.

Like Orpheus’s moment of weakness, the desire to momentarily sidestep data regulations can lead to overwhelming consequences. Companies and developers, driven to refine and enhance AI models, might be tempted to improperly scrape data, leading to significant repercussions that echo the tragic loss of Eurydice.

The Consequences of Unchecked Data Scraping

Violating data regulations can lead to severe consequences:

  • Legal Repercussions: Similar to how Orpheus lost Eurydice forever, companies face hefty fines and legal challenges if found violating data protection laws.
  • Ethical Breaches: Unauthorized data use undermines the trust that is crucial for digital interactions, potentially damaging consumer confidence and business reputations. One seemingly small mistake (like Orpheus’ simple glance), and the brand can be lost.
  • Impact on AI Quality and Reliability: Improper data practices can corrupt datasets, resulting in biased and unreliable AI models, compromising both effectiveness and ethical integrity.

The Importance of Discipline and Ethical Vigilance

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice highlights the necessity for strict discipline and ethical vigilance in our technological pursuits. Adhering to regulations, fostering transparency, and investing in ethical AI are crucial. We must embed compliance deeply within AI development and data management practices, ensuring that our innovations benefit humanity without compromising fundamental ethical standards.

The Take-Away Message

The tale teaches us that the path to technological advancement is fraught with challenges requiring strict adherence to ethical principles. In our quest to advance AI and data management, we must resist the temptation to cut corners or revert to forbidden practices. The consequences of such actions can be as irreversible and tragic. By steadfastly maintaining our ethical integrity and adhering to regulations, we can navigate this landscape safely and ensure that our technological advancements serve the greater good.

Up Next: The Oracle of Delphi and the Seductive Mysteries of Digital Oracles

Speaking of consequences of data management… Next time, we turn to the enigmatic world of the Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, exploring how ancient prophecies find their echo in modern digital oracles like ChatGPT and other language models. Just as the Oracle’s cryptic messages led many to unforeseen consequences, today’s AI technologies present us with a new set of challenges and mysteries. How do we discern truth from beautifully rendered hallucinations? Find out in the next chapter where myth meets machine in the search for clarity amidst complexity.



Pontus Wärnestål

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