Artificial Intelligence: Socioeconomic, Political And Ethical Dimensions

By Jon Kofas.

 

 
Introduction: Humanity’s Future in AI-Biosynthetic World
 
In a few centuries or perhaps a few decades, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and biosynthetic engineering will be perfected to the degree that androids will closely resemble humans and biosynthetically engineered humans will resemble androids. Despite the nightmares of such a prospect for some scientists, humanist scholars and theologians, AI will be a dream becoming reality for those espousing Max More’s philosophy of “transuhumanism”; a movement whose goal is to enhance the human condition physically and intellectually through the application of scientific and technological means. (Carvalko, Joseph, The Techno-human Shell-A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap. Sunbury Press, 2012)
 
Whether one agrees with transhumanism or finds it abhorrent because it is merely another means of promoting eugenics, the race to transform science fiction dreams into a profitable reality is picking up speed by corporations and investors. Multinational corporations see the opportunity for billions in profits and that is all the motivation they need to move forward full speed, advertising AI research and development even now to prove that their company is decades ahead of the competition.
Besides corporations, the potential power and wealth in AI has universities, government-funded research institutions and privately-funded labs working to realize the dream without worrying about the potential risks involved for society at large. Like the nuclear bomb developed in the 1940s, the AI genie is out of the bottle and it has been since the 1940s when scientists from different fields contemplated building an artificial brain thus giving birth to the formalize scientific discipline of AI in 1956.
 
British code breaker Alan Turing is known as the Father of Computer Science, also a pioneer in the domain of artificial intelligence, was only at the theoretical stage in the middle of the 20th century when he was conducting research. Contemporaries of Turing, Ross Quillian and Edward Feigenbaum followed by Marvin Minsky who co-founded MIT’s AI lab were all pioneers along with corporate giant IBM. By 2016 when Minsky died, AI was the hottest field that corporations, governments, and research institutions intensely pursued, some trying to beat the competition marketing robots for various tasks in the next few years. (George Zarkadakis, In our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence, 2017).
 
GOOGLE’s Peter Norvik, in charge of research made the argument that there is no turning back on AI which he views as the ultimate tool in solving problems, not considering the new problems it would create. “I don’t care so much whether what we are building is real intelligence. We know how to build real intelligence…—my wife and I did it twice, although she did a lot more of the work. We don’t need to duplicate humans. That’s why I focus on having tools to help us rather than duplicate what we already know how to do. We want humans and machines to partner and do something that they cannot do on their own.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/gilpress/2016/12/21/artificial-intelligence-pioneers-peter-norvig-google/#7dd2f52c38c6
 
In 2016, there were more than 650 business deals involving $5 billion in startups for AI research. With Google leading in patent applications, Microsoft, Amazon, INTEL, Facebook, and Apple became heavily involved in the domain of AI. The same companies involved in the web and cell phones are now competing for the lucrative AI market of the future with different venture capitalists backing research and development (R & D). With the advent of the web and cell phones, R & D in AI has moved rapidly since Turing’s era into the mainstream of government in a number of countries in the world, but especially US and China which are the main competitors in the field. According to some, AI is the global arms race of the future because of its potential in every sector including defense. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/china-artificial-intelligence/516615/; http://www.nbcnews.com/mach/features/next-global-arms-race-aims-perfect-artificial-intelligence-n685911
 
Because of immense institutional interest in AI, there has been a great deal written and debated about what it would all mean for society. There are tens of thousands of scholarly books and articles on the subject covering everything from scientific dimensions to social political and philosophical, some enthusiastic, others skeptical, and still others condemning AI as the new danger to humanity, even worse than motion pictures and science fiction novels depict. While most scholars are neither pessimistic nor as glowingly optimistic as Norvik about the miracle of AI awaiting the human race, there are those who cautiously point to both benefits and possible risks and skeptics cautious about the possible unforeseen consequences, some already evident with the cybergeneration of infophiles addicted to cell phones, computers, and video games.
 
In the early 21st century, the cybergeneration growing up in cyberspace with mechanical toys, videogames, cell phones and computers relate to machines as their reality. Accepting cyberspace as parallel to experiences with people they come into direct contact, the cybergeneration is conditioned to accept alienation from empirical reality as the norm, separating existential reality they may dread from cyber reality in which they live because they enjoy the illusion of greater control from a distance. A cybergeneration individual may have dozens or even hundreds of “cyber-friends” across the country and across the world but few if any friends in school, in the neighborhood, or at work. These cyubergeneration individuals deem detachment normal because the cyber-community has replaced the empirical one where they cannot hide behind numerous masks that cyberspace permits and promotes. The conditioning of the cybergeneration is very different than the socialization of any generation in the past that was socialized in the real community rather than in cyberspace. If this is the condition of the current cybergeneration, what would the future look like with AI robotics? http://cyberikee.tripod.com/thinking_cyber_subjectivity_1.html
 
By the end of this century, the reality of children growing up with robots, holograms and bioengineered humans will be far different than it is for the generation of the early 21st century in every respect from individual to group identity. The wealthier families will have androids in their homes, most likely helping to raise and educate their children, conditioning them about the existential nature of robots as an integral part of the family like the loveable dog or cat. The less affluent middle class would be able to rent-a-robot for the ephemeral experience of it. The lower classes will feel even more marginalized because AI robotics will be out of reach for them; in fact they will be lesser beings than the robots whose intelligence and functions will be another privilege for the wealthy to enjoy. As we will see below, the sense of identity and community will be largely impacted by AI in ways difficult to conceive today for all classes.
 
AI, Population Explosion and the Job Market
 
Robotics and AI goes to the heart of how existing and new industries could widen the class gap between rich and poor, and between richer advanced countries and poorer nations. AI raises many public policy questions especially in the domain of economics and politics. This is largely because resource allocation will mean that the lower classes and less developed countries will be further marginalized in the world economy. Even in the advanced countries robots will be replacing humans in the workplace with grave social consequences in the absence of a strict regulatory regime and a social safety net for the working class.
 
In 2016, a White House report speculated that AI will result in higher productivity, but it will also leave millions without work while creating far greater wealth inequality than already exists. Just as the Silicon Valley has created a small wealthy class without absorbing the surplus labor force at a time that the rich-poor gap has been widening in the last three decades, similarly AI will exacerbate the trend. Apologists of the market economy reject all pessimistic scenarios, insisting that AI will deliver paradise on earth for all humanity. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4068986/Is-job-risk-White-House-report-warns-AI-soon-leave-millions-Americans-unemployed.html; https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/04/robots-future-society-drones
 
If world population reaches 9 billion by 2050 as it is expected (38% higher than in 2010), and assuming it climbs to 11.2 billion by the end of the century with 9 billion living in Africa and Asia, it is easy to envision the sorts of sociopolitical problems that AI will create in the name of solving others, mainly for the benefit of raising corporate profits. Considering that most people will live in the non-Western World, those in the West will use AI as the pretext to keep wages low and exert their political, economic, military and cultural hegemony. Xenophobic politicians and nativist groups will use AI as a pretext to keep out Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans. Heightened xenophobia with robots to the rescue of the Caucasian minority on the planet will be another dimension of those looking for a pretext to rally rightwing populists behind an authoritarian regime. http://www.visualcapitalist.com/animation-world-population-2100-region/
 
It is a given that AI will result in many benefits in every field from surgery to the auto industry, and to an estimated 700 fields according to an Oxford University study. Just as the internet has made possible the assistance of a physician in Cleveland providing live instructions and advice to a colleague carrying out surgery in the Philippines, similarly AI will result in such miracles. The issue however is the manner that corporations and government will use AI as leverage for labor policy. When the auto industry introduced robotics in the 1970s (MIT’s “Silver Arm”), auto workers reacted like Luddites in the early 19th century England because they realized that corporations used robotics as leverage to drive down wages and benefits, circumvent labor standards and policies impacting workers and their socioeconomic condition. http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
 
In our era, fast food restaurants are among some industries that want to replace minimum wage workers with robots as soon as possible. Multinational corporations have been threatening government not to raise the minimum wage because robots are not far off replacing humans. Just as capitalists in early 19th century England were using the machine as leverage to determine labor policy, so do corporate CEOs in the early 21st century. Just as the British government sided with businesses against the Luddites in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, governments in the 21st century are also on the side of industry against workers.
 
From the perspective of the capitalist, an android can do a much better job in everything from serving food, to serving on the court bench as a judge without human prejudice which is the flaw that accounts human uniqueness. Although some argue that robots should not be used as health care providers or any area where human judgment of ethical considerations must be taken into account such as the judicial system, others insist that androids will serve humans better than people in every endeavor. As tools for human advancement and comfort, science and technology are a welcome development from a consumerist perspective, something that business and government use as an argument to fund R & D for AI.
 
AI could unlock immense potential for economic growth and development for the betterment of mankind, at least as far as its advocates are concerned. This assumes that the benefits of AI once fully implemented will be equally shared among all social classes across the entire world. Did all social classes and all nations advance equally because of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and the first Industrial Revolution in England in the 18thcentury? The rich-poor (northern Hemisphere vs. Southern Hemisphere) divide between northwest Europe, North America and Japan that were the core of the world capitalists system became more pronounced by continued scientific, technological, and industrial development. Scientific, technological, and industrial development under the capitalist system was hardly the solution for the lack of social justice, for widespread misery owing to poverty and disease, and lack of health and education among the poor. On the contrary, the advanced capitalist countries used technology as tools of exploitation of the Southern Hemisphere and AI technology will be no different.
 
Greater egalitarianism and the promise of creating a techno-scientific paradise on earth is the bait that corporations and bourgeois politicians and their apologists have been throwing to the masses for the past three centuries and they continue to do it when it comes to the AI revolution. There are studies warning about the greater gap between rich and poor people and countries that robotics will cause. “Oxford University researchers have estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades. And if even half that number is closer to the mark, workers are in for a rude awakening. In the 1800s, 80 percent of the U.S. labor force worked on farms. Today it’s 2 percent. Obviously mechanization didn’t destroy the economy. “
 
In Robot Nation, Stan Neilson raises the question of how a large percentage of the population will survive when corporations replace humans with robots on such a scale that half of the active work force will not be employable. Is the future of the majority of the people to serve robots serving the rich who own the robots? Will such conditions create the atmosphere for social revolutions because AI will create greater polarization than we have seen in modern history? After all, the contradiction of the AI revolution is the promise to make life better for all when it is entirely possible that it will make it much worse for the majority. While businesses and politicians are constantly trying to convince people that the AI revolution is a panacea, people will see for themselves that the benefits will accrue to the elites. Will there be a rise of a Luddite movement against robots and will the elites use robots to suppress revolutionary uprisings?
 
Advocates of AI insist that hyperbolic issues depicted in science fiction motion pictures and books have nothing to do with the practical reality of AI. The proponents of this new revolution believe that many new opportunities will be created by the new industry and robots will complement humans rather than humans competing with robots for jobs. The challenge for large corporations is to have the engineers to keep pace with the job demand. American companies have complained that government must do something to meet the demand shortage that forces corporations to recruit from India, China, Iran, Russia and other countries. India and China graduates 10 to 20 times more engineers (depending on the source) than the US where the field is not popular with students. On November 30, 2016, the computer sciences dean Andrew Moore testified before the congressional Subcommittee on Space, Science and Transportation that the US must have one million High School students now geared for engineering to maintain global competitiveness in AI. https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2016/november/moore-senate-testimony.html
 
The engineering glut in Asia, India, China and Japan also points to the race for AI that is seen as another tool giving the competitive advantage to whichever country crosses the finish line first with far reaching implications for the economy. Considering that about half of US engineering graduates  (54% Ph.D. and 42% MS) are foreign nationals, corporations have been asking government in the past ten years to provide more incentives, everything from scholarships to R & D grants to universities graduating engineers. Because of the enormous potential to the economy and defense sector, AI has become an important element in international competition, leaving no room to question the nuances of corporate welfare for the AI industry and about what it would mean to the active workforce of the future.
 
Transhumanism and Identity
 
Resting on the works of “transhumanist” intellectuals, the corporate, political and business advocates of AI believe the evolution of culture and identity is inevitable with the advent of robotics. Welcoming tranhumanism, the advocates believe that human beings have always evolved under very different conditions throughout human history, and they will continue to evolve physically and mentally thanks to the advancements in science and technology. While Max More’s definition of transhumanism cited below touches on some risks of AI, it stresses the benefits and it is the kind of justification that AI investors, government and industry is seeking.
  1. The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
  2. The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. http://whatistranshumanism.org/; Max More and Natasha Vita-More, The Transhumanist Reader, 2013)
Ever since British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane’s essay “Daedalus: Science and the Future” (1923), scientists advocating transhumanism have flirted with the idea of eugenics made possible by advances in science and technology. The idea of humans existing in a mechanical environment and approximating an android could be an anathema to a theologian or a humanist. For transhumanists, this is neither blasphemy nor perversion of the human condition; only its improvement. http://www.nextbigfuture.com/2013/03/data-driven-eugenics-genetic.html
 
Cyberculture that has created virtual communities raises philosophical questions about identity, relationships, values, the withering of real community culture, and lifestyles that will largely be determined by the AI industry. Robot companions and infophiles are oblivious to the unknown risks that AI could pose on society, arguing that a generation or two ago skeptics of the internet had similar questions. There are those who maintain that cyberculture is egalitarian and within it there is a counterculture movement validating its democratic nature and endless possibilities for individual and cyber-identity.
 
Others warn that there is also a criminal and “hate group” culture operating in everything from promoting narcotics to human slavery, from neo-Nazi elements to nihilistic cults promoting suicide, all of which could potentially become much worse with AI technology. “Social engineering, which refers to the practice of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging information, is widely seen as the weakest link in the computer security chain. Cybercriminals already exploit the best qualities in humans — trust and willingness to help others — to steal and spy. The ability to create artificial intelligence avatars that can fool people online will only make the problem worse.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/24/technology/artificial-intelligence-evolves-with-its-criminal-potential.html?_r=0
 
To apologists, cyberculture is not confined to the perimeters of the hegemonic culture of the elites simply because Silicon Valley is an integral part of corporate America. To skeptics, it has yet to be determined what role AI will play in shaping human and group identity if robotics is the domain of the business and political class. After all, large corporations and governments have a dominant role in cyberculture because they control cyberspace. Although we have no way of determining how AI will shape human identity, we do know something about the web’s influence in that regard.
 
In 2012, the British government commissioned a study directed by Professor Sir John Beddington on the manner the web was redefining human identity. Concluding that traditional identity based on community was becoming less relevant by web users, the study noted that there were both positive and negative influences resulting from the web community and users’ sense of identity. A segment of the population identifying with a particular sporting or cultural event could be mobilized through the web because individuals identified with that specific cause. At the same time, thousands of people could be called into political action as was the case not just with the Arab Spring uprisings, but also Occupy Wall Street and European protests. “The internet can allow many people to realise their identities more fully. Some people who have been shy or lonely or feel less attractive discover they can socialise more successfully and express themselves more freely online”. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-21084945
 
According to the British report on web identity, there was a sharp rise of internet users becoming members of social networks in the first two decades of the 21st century, along with the prevalence of social networks that accounted for changing identity of users. This is especially in the advanced capitalist countries, but the trend has spread rapidly to India, China and other parts of the world. Given the prevalence of social networks and the web, what will AI mean to human beings and their sense of identity and community once perfected to be almost indistinguishable from humans? If Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara used RADIO REBELDE effectively to undertake the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, will future generations use AI robots for social change, for personal satisfaction, for both and much more?  
 
Infophiles are already becoming more like the machines they use, like surreal characters in a Franz Kafka novel or a science fiction motion picture. They crave virtual reality more than empirical reality; their relationship with their cell phones or computers outlasts any other they have with human beings. If we accept the assumption that environment shapes human nature to a large degree as empiricist philosophers ever since John Locke argued, then we must accept that a techno-science environment of AI robots used by bio-engineered humans will result in robo-humans and a world where transhumanism will be the norm.
 
Eager to have robots behave like the ideal human, scientists are trying to create the machine that can emulate human beings when in fact the infophile has evolved into a quasi-robotic existence. The robot can be programmed to mimic human behavior, but humans are already programmed by institutions to mimic robots. Obedience is what businesses want from employees and consumers, what government expects from its docile citizenry, what religious institutions expect of the faithful. Just as robots are subject to conformity lacking free will, similarly the masses have moved in that direction as well. It often seems as though society has moved closer to the science fiction world of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, but it is all in the name of ‘progress’. Given the mechanical evolution of where capitalism is leading humanity, why should it be surprising that rich people who could afford the robot would have a problem with it as a lover or companion; after all it would be in the name of ‘progress’ and who wants to be left behind?
 
Future generations growing up in the world of AI will be conditioned into virtual reality as “more real” than the blood running in their veins, rejecting the real community which they cannot switch off and on like cell phones. It could be argued that the generation conditioned in infophilia has an identity not much different than our ancestors in the Age of Faith (500-1500 A.D.) who lived with the dream of achieving eternal life in Paradise. Nevertheless, the infophilia generation would be condemned to increasing alienation from the real community. As long as AI human-like robots and techno devices keep people content, at least for those with the means to afford them, humans will be aiming at techno-perfection.
 
To be human entails a myriad of contradictions, rational and irrational tendencies; instinctive spontaneous reaction and carefully planned; expressing free will and yearning for spiritual and emotional ventures; striving for self-improvement in every aspect of one’s character, and above all the limitless boundaries of creativity rooted in the totality of life’s empirical experiences. The robot does not have these traits and is defined by programmed behavior, or operating within certain confines even when perfected at some point in the future to account for emotional reactions and creativity. Nor does the robot have the biological sense of empathy for humans even if programmed not to harm them. This makes a robot as much the perfect soldier and police officer as it does the perfect worker to obey. In short, through robotics, corporations are designing the perfect soldier and worker and one that would be a model for humans to emulate.
 
Erich Fromm’s theory of social necrophilia helps to explain human behavior increasingly emulating technical devices, not merely as a byproduct of science and technology, but of sociopolitical conditioning in a world where human values are measured by inanimate objects. There is a case to be made that identity with the machine and emulating it leads to a necroculture distorting human values where inanimate objects have greater worth than human beings – materialism in a capitalist society over humanism of an anthropocentric society is the norm. (Charles Thorpe, Necroculture, 2016)
 
While force, social and legal/criminal justice pressures, along with religious institutions kept people docile and compliant in centuries past across the globe, it could be argued that science and technology are substitutes to religion as the new conduits to keep human beings in a state of conformity. Existential alienation that Jean-Paul Sartre addressed in Being and Nothingness is vastly exacerbated by the cyber-world in which we live. We are wired to alienation by the dominant market-oriented culture, whereas the French peasant in the 12th century was presumably content in the illusion of connectedness to the divine and hope for eternal Paradise. Either our cyber-illusions could be as fulfilling as those of our ancestors 1000 years ago, or we are merely more delusional about a false sense of hope in our cyber-controlled lives. 

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