by Anthony Signorelli
Humanity is not going to end because of artifical intelligence (AI), but capitalism is. Last week, the venerable Stephen Hawking expressed his concern over what AI could actually mean for humanity. (See the links below.)The angst experienced by Hawking, Musk, and Gates must be viewed as a paucity of ideas about society and the potential alternatives to capitalism. Capitalism faces an existential threat in the face of AI; humanity does not.
See Hawkings concerns here: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540
Stephen Hawking is not wrong about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Neither is Musk or Gates. Artificial intelligence that not only goes beyond what humans can do, but which can design and build itself better than humans can, presents all kinds of threats and challenges.
However, these men and other critics assess the threat based on thinking that is stuck in the capitalist systems of today. And in those terms, they are right—there is little to stop the technological juggernaut leading to general AI, and virtually no chance to actually control it. Capitalism cannot stop it. The existential threat they are feeling is actually the existential threat to the capitalist system. Humanity will survive, but capitalism will not.
Under our current system of economics, the full development of AI is inevitable for the same reasons that robotics and technological development in other fields is inevitable—it drives down costs and increases profits. Business leaders and entrepreneurs cannot help but build, use, and adopt these advances. Other technologies have also developed that were seen as frightening and dangerous, many of which are frightening and dangerous, but that doesn’t stop humanity—which is locked in a system of economic imperatives to drive down costs—from using and adopting them.
While capitalism is impotent to stop AI in the face of these developments, humanity has options—including a range from utopic visions of a workless future to dystopic concentrations of power leading to surplus populations that “need to be terminated” in the view of the elite. Yet these, too, reflect a paucity of ideas we need not accept as the limit of human thinking and possibility.
The only way to deal with the inevitable development of a digitalized future is to find new ideas, new frames, new perspectives—most of the best based on the metaphors of digital technology—that will empower humans to co-exist with what we create. We are certainly in the process of destroying capitalism; it is not a foregone conclusion that humanity has to go with it.