Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

The Real Problem With AI

The scary part about AI for me isn’t really what it can do. I can imagine all sorts of uses for it in my life (I’m a creative writer and a photographer who makes his living a business/marketing writer/editor and content manager).

The problem is political/economic. Yes, AI will put people out of work. LOTS of them. It already is. Fine, but that, per se, isn’t a problem. The problem – and here comes a critique of capitalism and how it’s wired our brains – is that people will have no way to sustain themselves. Sustaining yourself and working are different things, no matter what rich “job creators” and the pols who work for them say. Sam no longer has a job? But he has the money he needs to live on? Bring on the machines!

But this only works in a society that thinks a few minutes ahead. And in the last election there was precisely one candidate on the stage who wanted to talk about universal basic income (UBI). That was Andrew Yang, and the less said about him, the better.

The alternative is millions and millions and millions of people who can’t support themselves. And to put a very relevant emotional spin on it, can’t provide for their children. These aren’t all “unskilled” laborers, either. Many, many of them used to be white collars and info sector workers. So now you have a huge and very capable and intensely desperate populace. That, by the way, has scary technical savvy and is way armed.

In a lot of ways this is like the Luddite rebellion. Understand, the word “Luddite” is profoundly misunderstood. Let me bore you with a passage from my dissertation, pp149-50.

While the term “Luddite” popularly connotes someone who is anti-technology*, the actual rebellion was more critically aimed at technology which threatened the sanctity of culture (Rybczynski Taming the Tiger; Pynchon “Is it O.K. to Be a Luddite?”). Their reaction was not against progress – they gladly used the newest weaving technology available, and were “interested in innovation and technical improvements to make their work easier” – but were instead opposed to the dehumanizing dislocations of the industrial economy.

At the turn of the 19th Century, factory looms were the latest innovation, and a factory job meant arriving at dawn for a 15 to 18 hour working day, and the door was locked behind you in the morning and not opened until the end of the shift. To the Luddites, the factory looms spelled the end of a way of life, of craftsmanship, of community and of family (Murphy “Are We the Neo-Luddites?”).

From the perspective of modern-day Luddites, the “original rebels against the future” reacted against technological encroachments on the natural order of human society. The Luddites had no objection to many technologies such as the carding engine and the spinning jack that supplemented human labour, but were not a threat to their livelihoods. By contrast, the inhuman machines that characterised the Industrial Revolution were new and different in that they were independent of nature, of geography, and season and weather, of sun, of wind, or water, or human or animal power. They not only destroyed jobs, but marked the beginning of an environmental catastrophe (Ludd “New Luddite”).

Parliament, already fearing the spread of unrest from France to Britain, was persuaded that the Luddite uprising “signaled a population prone to revolution,” and dispatched the military to smash the rebellion in 1812. The size of the detachment – 14,000 soldiers – was “seven times as large as any ever sent to maintain peace in England” (Sale “Lessons”). The movement’s leaders were either executed or deported (Rybczynski; Ludd). Factories, it was assumed, along with the wider transformation to industrial society, “kept people in their place – passive, orderly and productive (Ludd). Perhaps even more important than the physical victory, though, was the linguistic and ideological victory.

The triumph of industrialism was such that Luddism could be reduced to a term of abuse by the new technocratic elite and politicians. Colonial powers imposed destructive innovations on much of the rest of the world’s population, and once their armies had left they re-named their exploitation development (Ludd).


*A 1997 declaration by the “Humanist Laureates of the International Academy of Humanism” – a group of Nobel Laureates, Emeritus scholars, political leaders, activists, and authors which counts among its number such luminaries as Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, and Kurt Vonnegut – vulgarly characterizes “the Luddite option” as historically seeking “to turn back the clock and limit or prohibit the application of already existing technologies.” The statement comes no closer to acknowledging the critical social contexts surrounding the movement than lamenting the possibility that “ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning” (International Academy of Humanism). Vonnegut, at least, should know better.

I don’t see how we move through the automation of our society without lots of bloodshed. I mean, ask yourself how many oligarchs you’d murder to feed your children.

Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review

Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?

Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.

1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Read more

My god – it’s full of stars: 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology

I used to work with a HAL 9000. Back when I was at US West in the late ’90s we had a voice system into which we would record the day’s company news so that employees without Internet access could dial in and keep up with the latest events. As with any such system there was a dial-in sequence, buttons that had to be pressed in a certain order, etc.

One day, as I was working through the first stage of the sequence, our phone system apparently achieved sentience. For reasons that I still can’t explain, a decade later, and that nobody at the time had any clue about, the machine sort of … intuited what I was about to do. It performed an action or two that, put simply, it could not do. Read more

Nostrasamus Prophesies the 21st Century

What kind of place will the ground upon which we now stand be come January 1, 2101?

As we turn into a new millennium I imagine many people have pondered what the coming century holds for them, their children, and their grandchildren. Will the 2000s be a time of peace, of prosperity, an age of enlightenment and human achievement?

Or will humanity succumb to its darker instincts, engulfing the planet in war, environmental disaster, and economic inequity? Read more