A long time ago, when I was working on my Ph.D. research, I learned to use supercomputers to track the complex 3-D motions of gas blown into space by dying stars.

Using big computers in this way was still new to lots of researchers in my field and I was often asked, “How do you know your models are right?”

Now, a few decades later, hyper-large-scale computational fluid dynamics is so common in astrophysics that no one asks me that question anymore. Machines are so fast, and so powerful, that everyone takes it as a given that they can be deployed to drive my field forward.

The machines, in other words, have long since arrived.

In the wake of events related to the last U.S. election, it now seems that the machines have arrived in a very different domain that threatens to upend the way democracy works (or doesn’t). We find ourselves in era of “computational propaganda” — and that should make us all very, very concerned.

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