Who’s Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?
From Science Fiction to Science Fact: The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence
In November 2022, the artificial intelligence (AI) research laboratory Open AI launched a free prototype of its text-based human conversation simulator called ChatGPT. GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. The GPT models are pre-trained by human developers and then are left to learn for themselves and generate ever increasing amounts of knowledge, delivering that knowledge in an acceptable way to men and women.
ChatGPT is designed to generate natural language responses to questions, provide recommendations and to write copy. It has numerous applications and has the potential to transform the way people interact with technology and each other.
Sam Altman, the chief executive of Open AI, which developed ChatGPT said:
“In the next five years, computer programs that can think will read legal documents and give medical advice. In the next decade they will do assembly-line work and maybe even become companions. And in the decades after that, they will do almost everything, including making new scientific discoveries that will expand our concept of everything”
(TIMES, 7 April 2023).
Of course, the new technology is sensationalised in the media into a technological development that threatens humankind with mass unemployment and robotic enslavement. It is not a new fear of technology. One newspaper recently carried a headline of football managers being replaced by robots although what would happen to the often-sacked manager is not discussed. The DAILY MAIL went one further with a headline:
“Killer robots could make humans their SLAVES before destroying everyone on the planet, claims scientist” (14 June 2018).
Even capitalists are at this sensationalism. According to the GUARDIAN: “Elon Musk says AI Could Lead to Third World War’ (4 September 2017) although NATO and Russia in the current Ukrainian war are following conventional lines of destructive hostility towards the Third World War. That is not to say the military have not embraced AI in their war plans.
The Czech writer Karel Capek wrote a Utopian drama ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS (Prague 1920) in which one of the characters states:
“…The best sort of worker is the cheapest worker. The one that has least needs. What young Rossum invented was a worker with the least needs possible. He had to make him simpler. He threw out everything that wasn’t of direct use in his work, that’s to say, he threw out the man and put in the robot”. (Cited in MARX AND THE ROBOTS, Introduction, p1 2022).
In fact, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN in which the “monster” eventually destroys most of the creator’s friends and relatives. Science fiction writers have been playing on the fear of robotics, computers and artificial intelligence ever since. It sells newspapers.
Fear of the consequences of AI were amplified by a letter to AI laboratories and governments from the multi-billionaire Elon Musk and others. In their letter they wrote:
“We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4…If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium.”
Musk and others feared the negative potential of AI, that an all-powerful “artificial general intelligence” could have extreme dangers for humanity.
However, their demand for a six-month ban on developing more advanced AI models has been met with scepticism. Yann Le Cun, the leading AI expert at Facebook-parent company Meta, compared the attempt to put AI under wraps like the Catholic church trying to ban the printing press. He imagined the outcry in Papal circles when they learnt of Johannes Gutenberg inventing the moveable printing press in 1440:
“Imagine what could happen if the commoners get access to books,” he sarcastically wrote on Twitter.
Nevertheless, although books had the power to propagate ruling class ideas besides scientific inquiries into capitalism like Marx’s CAPITAL, technology does have a more destructive dimension.
What came of the research into atomic energy in the 1930s? In august 1939, Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt to warn him that: “the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy” and that “extremely powerful bombs may thus be constructed”.
Some six years later in August 1945 the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing over 100,000 men, women and children.
Socialists, AI and Technology
Socialists have long had an interest in technological advance. Not for its own sake or for its application to the profit system. Instead, socialists have looked at new technology, under common ownership and democratic control of all society to increase the forces of production and to free men and women from the necessity to work. In other words, extends the realm of creativity, leisure and taking part in the affairs of society.
Marx and Engels made some useful comments on the development of the means of production in their own day. In THE CONDITIONS OF THE WORKING CLASS (1844) Engels made the point that mechanisation not only shed jobs it often created new employment in new sectors of the capitalist economy. Not that it benefited workers whose lives were often turned upside down and remained an exploited class.
In the GRUNDRISSE Marx wrote:
“The real facts, which are travestied by the optimism of the economists, are these: the workers, when driven out of the workshop by the machinery, are thrown onto the labour-market. Their presence in the labour-market increases the number of labour-powers which are at the disposal of capitalist exploitation…the effect of machinery, which has been represented as a compensation for the working class, is, on the contrary, a most frightful scourge. …. As soon as machinery has set free a part of the workers employed in a given branch of industry, the reserve men are also diverted into new channels of employment and become absorbed in other branches; meanwhile the original victims, during the period of transition, for the most part starve and perish.”
The implication here is that automation for the working class means increased precarious jobs and rising inequality. The rise of what the late David Graber called “bullshit jobs”.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has also added its scepticism in the use of new technology to create millions of unemployed workers.
In an article FAILURE OF ECONOMIC FORECASTING we said:
“So why did the forecasters get it wrong? There is a common factor in most of the forecasters disproved by events. It is that the forecasters looked at what was happening in the final stage of each industry’s production process and failed to take into account the process as a whole”.
Most forecasters, for example, look at the labour displaced by a machine but ignore the labour needed for the production, maintenance and operation of that machine.
It was left to Marx to provide a valid measurement of productivity and its increase by the application of his labour theory of value. In accordance with that theory the value of a commodity corresponds to the total amount of labour socially necessary to produce it. But that amount of labour is not merely the labour needed in the last stage of production but the whole production, from start to finish. Marx wrote.
“In calculating the exchangeable value of a commodity, we must add to the quantity of labour last employed the quantity of labour previously worked up in the raw material of the commodity, and the labour bestowed on the implements, tools, machinery and buildings with which such labour is assisted” (VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT, International Publishers 1976, p 32)
In the, so-called ‘Fragment of the Machine’ (a passage that Marx himself never titled as such), buried deep in the GRUNDRISSE, a series of notebooks that weren’t published until 1973, a full 125 years after they were written, Marx did not see the advancement of machine technology incompatible with human beings, if and only if, the development of machines took place within socialism.
Marx even gave a thought experiment of a social system in which production was wholly mechanised, He wrote:
“Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself… As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure”.
AI, though, is emerging under capitalism, a system based on profit and class exploitation where the means of production are privately owned to the exclusion of the rest of society. And it is under capitalism with its national conflicts over resources, land, trade routes and spheres of influence that we should first start looking at this emerging technology.
AI, Competition and the Military
AI finds an outlet in the intense competition between the United States and China. US is to deny China the most advanced semiconductors necessary for cutting edge AI. However, in the 1940s it did not take the Soviet Union long to get the necessary technology to manufacture the atomic bomb for themselves. In a recent article John Naughton wrote:
“A National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence was convened…In its report, the commission warned that China could soon replace the US as the world’s “AI superpower”; that AI systems will be used…in the pursuit of power; and that “AI will not stay in the domain of science fiction”. It also urged President Biden to reject calls for a global ban on highly controversial AI-power autonomous weapons, saying that China and Russia were unlikely to keep to any treaty they signed” (‘AS AI weaponry enters the arms race, America is feeling very, very afraid’ 0.9 April 2023).
Meanwhile, as with all other high-tech innovation under capitalism, the power of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence are understood to fetch substantial contracts with the British Armed forces.
With AI technologies already in use by the British Army in its war games in Estonia battlefield operations in the capitalist wars of the twenty-first century, including unmanned drone air assaults and targeted assassinations, the power of GPT decision-making is being actively pursued by the British Army.
The Ministry of Defence (sic) boasts: “The Defence AI Strategy makes clear that AI has extraordinary potential as a general enabling technology. The DAIC is the central catalyst to realise its benefits right across the MOD, from the ‘back office’ to battlespace. It will enhance the speed and efficiency of business processes and support functions; increase the quality of decision-making and tempo of operations; improve the security and resilience of inter-connected networks; enhance the mass, persistence, reach and effectiveness of our military forces; and protect our people from harm by automating ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ tasks”.
Defence Procurement Minister, Jeremy Quin, said:
“Future conflicts may be won or lost on the speed and efficacy of AI technology, and our approach to AI must be rapid, ambitious and comprehensive. Our new Defence AI Centre (DAIC) and AI strategy will create a focused hub to champion these technologies, working ethically hand in hand with human judgements to maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of global security and responsible innovation”.
Capitalism can only use the development of new technologies for war and class exploitation. Only socialism can use the potential of technologies such as ChatGPT to benefit all of society. Capitalism has developed technology like AI and social productivity to the point where sufficient housing, health provision, communication, transport and food can be produced for everyone. This is the material basis of socialism.
Capitalism is incapable of meeting human need; the profit system cannot make full use of the global productivity system it has built-up over the past three hundred years or so. Socialism making full use of the developed methods of production like AI will alter the purpose of production. Production will take place directly and solely to meet human need.; that is through the revolutionary socialist reorganisation of society by the working class.
AI: Capitalism, Unemployment and Profit
The expectation for capitalism, productivity and profit, is that the core technology of ChatGPT will be sold to corporations across all industries as a means of cutting costs and eliminating jobs.
The global artificial intelligence market size was estimated at US$ 119.78 billion in 2020. It is believed that AI could contribute up to$15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined (Sizing the Prize, PwC Global pwc.com). There is indeed investment opportunities in AI and for profitable outcomes for investors.
According to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, half of the tasks performed by auditors, interpreters and writers can be performed more quickly by AI tools. A report published by McKinsey & Company estimates that 25 percent of work across all occupations could be automated by 2030 and 60 percent of 800 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labour Statistics could have one-third of their work tasks automated in the coming decades.
While past rounds of automation affected factory jobs, Anu Madgavkar, who leads labor market research at the McKinsey Global Institute said that AI will affect white-collar jobs most. She said:
“It’s increasingly going into office-based work and customer service and sales…They are the job categories that will have the highest rate of automation adoption and the biggest displacement. These workers will have to work with it or move into different skills.”
(Anu Madgavkar, GUARDIAN 8 February 2023).
In 2018, a report from the World Economic Forum estimated that AI would create a net total of 58 million new jobs by 2022. The report also said that AI would eliminate 75 million jobs by 2022. Most work will not be full-time, but employers are expected to expand their remote workforce and rely increasingly on contractors and sub-contractors.
Workers as “contractors and sub-contractors” means precarious and mentally damaging part-time work currently experienced by those striking Amazon workers in the large, computerised Amazon warehouses dotted along the motorways of the UK or the staff at Mechanical Turk, Foodora and Uber.
Marx, in the first volume of CAPITAL, made some useful observations regarding the working class and machinery. He said:
“An organised system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motions of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs” (Section 1: The Development of Machinery).
Marx was always clear that the development of the forces of production, as long as they remained under the ownership of the capitalist class, would not benefit the workers. He wrote:
“Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him”
Industrial Workers as employers are always vulnerable to the profit motive and the competition of companies to make a profit. As employees they face machinery as something alien to them. They have no control. And they have no ability to use the means of production for their own needs and the needs of their families. This brings us on to the real issue about AI, its use and for whom.
The real issue is about ownership and control, what is AI used for and by whom.
The real issue is about ownership and control, what is AI used for and by whom. We should not fear AI. The real problem for workers is the development and use of AI by governments and capitalists and their governments.
Creative and satisfying work given freely to meet human need will be the object for a socialist society either supported or not by artificial intelligence. Human beings will not be slaves to technology. Work is both a biological and a social necessity for human beings. We do not believe that AI and robotics will end the need for human beings to work. Work is a human condition and should be creative and pleasurable. However, how work will be organised in socialism will be totally different than it is under capitalism. Work as creative pleasure rather than work as exploited drudgery.
If under capitalism the application of AI will further degrade and alienate human existence, then this will not be the case in socialism. Working for an employer is always degrading, often boring and unpleasant and sometimes dangerous and unhealthy. Outside employment workers do find pleasure and enjoyment. Work is not the same as employment and the use of AI in production and distribution will not be an issue employment but free and voluntary labour producing useful things to directly meet social need. Employment and employees will not exist in socialism.
Machines cannot think of potential and qualitative changes. AI and robotics cannot tell us how to be human beings and what it is to be a human being. New knowledge comes from such transformations (human), not from the extension of existing knowledge (machines). Only human intelligence is social and can see the potential for change, in particular social change, that leads to a better life for humanity and nature. Socialism would prioritise people and nature rather than technological progress. As Aaron Benanav concluded in his book AUTOMATION AND THE FUTURE OF WORK (2020):
“Recognition of the fundamental dignity of the 7 billion plus who make up humanity requires that we no longer agree to relegate some to a life of drudgery so that other may be free. It means we must share out the work that remains to be done in a technologically advanced society, so that everyone has the right and the power what to do with their time” (p93).
Or as Marx and Engels had put it earlier in The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO:
“…we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.