THE good news, according to Professor Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science for Human Compatible Artificial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, is that the machines aren’t about to take over. Well, not quite yet.

“I want to be clear that we are a long way from achieving general purpose AI,” Professor Russell consolingly told his audience during the first of this year’s Reith Lectures on Radio 4 last Wednesday morning.

“To talk about the IQ of a machine doesn’t make sense,” he also said, reminding us that Google can’t find its way out of a paper bag. (I didn’t even know it came in one).

Which is all a relief, isn’t it? Or it was before he added a caveat in the form of a story.

On September 11, 1933, Lord Rutherford, the leading nuclear physicist of the era, was asked if humanity would be able to unlock the energy of the atom any time in the next 30 years.

“His answer was,” Professor Russell said, “anyone who looks for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms is talking moonshine.”

Next morning, he added, Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist and refugee read about Rutherford’s comments in the Times.

“He went for a walk and invented the neutron-induced nuclear chain reaction. The problem of liberating atomic energy went from impossible to essentially solved in less than 24 hours.”

Ah, right.

The moral of this story is that betting against human ingenuity is foolhardy especially when our future is at stake, Professor Russell concluded.

And that’s the key. Our future. Because at some point, he suggests, AI systems will reach an “inflection point” when their capabilities will far exceed ours.

At which point, he said, we will hopefully have thought through what that might mean and how it might work for us rather than against us.

Hopefully. Then again, it depends on who is doing the thinking. Last week our own Prime Minister ended up talking about Peppa Pig to the CBI. That doesn’t bode well for our futureproofing prospects, does it?

Rather cheekily Radio 4’s Profile on Sunday night put Peppa Pig in the spotlight, “an unlikely global media sensation screened around the world in 180 different countries,” Mark Coles pointed out, “with dedicated theme parks on three different continents.”

Well, yes, and we know Boris Johnson has been to at least one of them.

What followed was a brisk, cheeky disquisition on the birth of a cartoon success, questions of fat-shaming and sexism in animation and more than a few sly digs at the PM.

One of the contributors who knew Peppa Pig’s creators spoke to one of them after Johnson’s hymn to Peppa and all-round British creativity and reported back. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, but isn’t it interesting that a few months ago the government was telling creatives to go and retrain to be plumbers, or do IT?”

Yeah, awkward that. As was the fact that while the Prime Minister was keen to praise Peppa as a great British success story he forgot to mention another salient point. These days it’s owned by Americans.

So it goes.

Listen Out For: Private Passions, Radio 3, tomorrow, noon. Are you still in love with Hayley Mills? (Little in-joke for Prefab Sprout fans, there). Still, if you are, you’ll be thrilled to learn that she is Michael Berkeley’s guest on Private Passions this week. Expect Bach and Tchaikovsky between stories of her life in film.