Category Archives: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Normal Intrusions: Globalising AI Surveillance

They all do it: corporations, regimes, authorities.  They all have the same reasons: efficiency, serviceability, profitability, all under the umbrella term of “security”.  Call it surveillance, or call it monitoring the global citizenry; it all comes down to the same thing.  You are being watched for your own good, and such instances should be regarded as a norm.

Given the weaknesses of international law and the general hiccupping that accompanies efforts to formulate a global right to privacy, few such restrictions, or problems, preoccupy those in surveillance.  The entire business is burgeoning, a viral complex that does not risk any abatement.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released an unnerving report confirming that fact, though irritatingly using an index in doing so.  Its focus is Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.  A definition of sorts is offered for AI, being “an integrated system that incorporates information acquisition objectives, logical reasoning principles, and self-correction capacities.”

When stated like that, the whole matter seems benign.  Machine learning, for instance, “analyses a large amount of information in order to discern a pattern to explain the current data and predict future uses.”

There are several perturbing highlights supplied by the report’s author, Steven Feldstein.  The relationship between military expenditure and states’ use of AI surveillance systems is noted, with “forty of the world’s top fifty military spending countries (based on cumulative military expenditures) also [using] AI surveillance technology.”  Across 176 countries, data gathered since 2017 shows that AI surveillance technologies are not merely good domestic fare but a thriving export business.

The ideological bent of the regime in question is no bar to the use of such surveillance.  Liberal democracies are noted as major users, with 51 percent of “advanced democracies” doing so.  That number, interestingly enough, is less than “closed autocratic states” (37 percent); “electoral autocratic/competitive autocratic states” (41 percent) and “electoral democracies/illiberal democracies” (41 percent).  The political taxonomist risks drowning in minutiae on this point, but the chilling reality stands out: all states are addicted to diets of AI surveillance technologies.

Feldstein makes the fairly truistic point that “autocratic and semi-autocratic” states so happen to abuse AI surveillance more “than governments in liberal democracies” but the comparisons tend to break down in the global race for technological superiority.  Russia, China and Saudi Arabia are singled out as “exploiting AI technology for mass surveillance purposes” but all states seek the Holy Grail of mass, preferably warrantless surveillance.  Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 did more than anything else to scupper the quaint notion that those who profess safeguards and freedoms are necessarily aware about the runaway trends of their security establishment.

The corporation-state nexus is indispensable to global surveillance, a symbiotic relationship that resists regulation and principle.  This has the added effect of destroying any credible distinction between a state supposedly more compliant with human rights standards, and those that are not.  The common thread, as ever, is the technology company.  As Feldstein notes, in addition to China, “companies based in liberal democracies – for example, Germany, France, Israel, Japan, South Korea, the UK, the United States – are actively selling sophisticated equipment to unsavoury regimes.”

These trends are far from new.  In 1995, Privacy International published a report with the unmistakable title Big Brother Incorporated, an overview of surveillance technology that has come to be aptly known as the Repression Trade.  “Much of this technology is used to track the activities of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, student leaders, minorities, trade union leaders, and political opponents.”

Corporations with no particular allegiance except to profit and shareholders, such as British computer firm ICL (International Computers Limited) were identified as key designers behind the South African automated Passbook system, Apartheid’s stand out signature.  In the 1980s, the Israeli company Tadiran, well in keeping with a rich tradition of the Repression Trade, supplied the murderous Guatemalan policy with computerised death lists in their “pacification” efforts.

The current galloping power in the field of AI surveillance technology is China, underpinned by the clout-heavy Belt and Road Initiative rosily described by its fans as a Chinese Marshall Plan.  Where there are market incentives, there are purchasing prospects for AI technology.  “Technology linked to Chinese companies are found in at least sixty-three countries worldwide.  Huawei alone is responsible for providing AI surveillance technology to at least fifty countries.”  Chinese technology, it is speculated, may well boost surveillance capabilities within certain African markets, given the “aggressiveness of Chinese companies”.

Other powers also participate in what has become a field of aggressive competitors.  Japan’s NEC is its own colossus, supplying technology to some 14 countries.  IBM keeps up the pressure as a notable American player, doing so to 11 countries.  That particular entity made something of a splash in May, with a report revealing sales of biometric surveillance systems to the United Arab Emirates security and spy agencies stirring discussion in May this year.  Another recipient of IBM surveillance technology is the Philippines, a country more than keen to arm its police forces with the means to monitor, and more than occasionally murder, its citizens.  (The Davao City death squads are a bloody case in point.)

Issues with the report were bound to arise.  A humble admission is made that the sampling method may be questionable in terms of generating a full picture of the industry.  “Given the opacity of government surveillance use, it is nearly impossible to pin down by specific year which AI platforms or systems are currently in use.”  Nor does the index “distinguish between AI surveillance used for legitimate purposes and unlawful digital surveillance.”  A murky field, indeed.

For all the grimness of Feldstein’s findings, he is also aware of the seductive element that various platforms have offered.  Rampant, amoral AI surveillance might well be a hideous by-product of technology, but the field teems with promise in “deep learning; cloud computing and online data gathering”, “improved performance of complex algorithms; and market-driven incentives for new uses of AI technology.”  This shows, in a sense, the Janus-faced nature in critiquing such an enterprise; such praise tends to come with the territory, given Feldstein’s own background as former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau of the US State Department.

Feldstein leaves room to issue a warning.  “As these technologies become more embedded in governance and politics, the window for change will narrow.”  The window, in many instances, has not so much narrowed as closed, as it did decades ago.

Questioning the Extremely Online

This essay is in regard to a crime that too often goes unmentioned when the conversations turn towards political analysis, the contemporary journalistic scene, and broader social critique: the crime of being extremely online.

What does it mean to be extremely online? It mostly is as straightforward as it sounds. Generally, activities such as spending too much time on the web, scrolling through social media feeds out of habit, checking email or notifications dozens of times a day, all are symptoms of the extremely online person. Particularly, too much smartphone use is a devastating problem.

There is also a more specific version, which both mainstream journalists and alternative media commentators employ on both the right and left: constantly posting every news update; sharing a gazillion times every day each and every version and opinion on a current event/post/tweet about the lead news stories of the day, whether it is something interesting about global warming or something as ignorant and banal as the president’s tweets; prognosticating about the presidential election a year and a half before it happens;  using dubious polls or statistics to bolster weak arguments; and basically reacting to every media spectacle with behavior including, but not limited to, juvenile tantrums, posturing, faux outrage, jaded cynicism, pompous virtue-signalling, ironic detachment, and narcissistic self-aggrandizement.

Quite a few alternative media commentators tend to replicate and mimic the 24/7 spectacle that is mainstream news. That is to say, many have internalized the messaging style; the hyper-fast response time to current events…generally speaking, the norms of mainstream commentary and thus bourgeois values are being internalized. The more time spent posting for an online following on social media, the stronger the pull of an affinity to a certain type of power. Digital hierarchies become hardened, and the bourgeoisification of the web intensifies. As we shall see below, even those who identify as anti-capitalist or socialist are not immune.

The types of online behaviors regarding political debate exhibited above may be the exception, but with the expansion of social media along with its hyper-stratified tendencies, it may soon become the norm.

What research has shown is that digital literacy creates a path towards more open attitudes towards digital technology, which can be called Technophilia.1 This research points towards entertainment as one of the key drivers in promoting positive emotions and behavior when using digital technology, which results in a positive feedback loop leading to more intense and rewarding use.

If you extrapolate from this a bit, I’d suggest that the top online influencers in various political schools of thought will be more predisposed towards promoting digital technology, simply because they are benefitting from it financially. We have a situation where the most popular commentators are economically tied to social media, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that their naïve optimism regarding the power of digital media will not stop there, but rather, the naivety extends to industrial society as a whole.

The social media environment creates a logic of its own, just as most modern technology does. One obvious materialist analogy is to the medical industry. As long as for-profit companies are allowed to dominate pharmaceutical and research endeavors, the logic of the system will mean that more people are made sick, anxious, depressed, etc., to make more money for corporations. With social media, the logic of its internal dynamics precludes nuanced, informed, lengthy public deliberation in favor of sound-bite quotes, sloganeering, and focusing on personalities, along with the most shallow forms of identity politicking. Its logic depends on divisive, sensational, hateful, and ultimately fascistic rhetoric dominating political discourse.

Since the scope of Technophilia broadens and intensifies with continued use of labor-saving devices made under exploitative conditions, it ultimately results in many self-proclaimed anti-capitalists falling under the sway of propaganda emanating from mainstream technological society, as we shall see below.

Class is never taken seriously in our society. In many rural areas around the USA broadband internet access is still out of reach, and is expensive for many poor urban Americans as well, creating a digital divide. Thus it is no wonder that the rich and middle-classes are more “open” towards the web and smart-phone use. They derive more pleasure from them in terms of entertainment, increased digital literacy, and monetary success. The flip side of being more open is being more immature and blind to dangers, however. In contrast the poor and working classes respond to the digital life-world with more skepticism, as the above study indicates.

My contention here is that this digital literacy creates a new form of “digital spectacle” for technophilic Westerners on both the political right and left, especially for the middle classes. The elite implicitly understand that in a society based on artificial scarcity, only a certain amount of online influencers can vie for position in digital media. The professional and managerial classes, and their children ensconced in privilege, all too easily fall under the sway of the competitive forces in online media as well.

The poor and working class understand that in regarding to digital media, they are getting crushed under the weight of start-up costs, social capital which is either unobtainable or sleazy to get, and various online fees and hurdles to make it in a new rigged game of digital society. The digital divide is becoming a chasm, because it too it based on market forces.

As alluded to above, election cycle mania, the fascination with polling data, as well as fixation of GDP, job growth, and many other factors which the mainstream media focuses on are now internalized across the political spectrum, included much of Western Left analysis. This isn’t to say that socialists overly reliant on statistics and polling are wrong; simply that it’s mostly ineffective, as the tone is technocratic, academic, and is filled with the jargon that turns off the average citizen, even some of what is written here. I am not immune, this is a self-criticism as well, as the lack of engagement and overly analytical framework extends throughout journalism and academia across the entire social body.

Most of this behavior has been internalized and learned from mainstream media, which creates a market and manufactured interest in nonsensical statistics and banal news trivia, as Neil Postman points out:

Statistics create an enormous amount of completely useless information, which compounds the always difficult task of location that which is useful to a culture. This is more than a case of ‘information-overload.’ It is a matter of information-trivia, which has the effect of placing all information on an equal level.2

Once data becomes transmuted into a sort of holy substance, it is wielded by both the political Right and Left as a weapon: statistics back their cause and any deviation from the issue is irrational and illogical. This sets the table for false binaries and political polarization across the spectrum of political thought.

What being extremely online has done is given the very few big “influencers” in mainstream media as well as alternative spaces huge egos and warped their ability to think critically. This is most clearly seen in our “troll in chief”, Donald Trump. Time, space, and perception are distorted and it has led to a predictable and unimaginative online discourse.

When a post appears on social media, often if you know the contributor and some of the followers/friends, you can glean and predict what the reaction is going to be and who is going to say what. Depending on the news of the day, I can guestimate what the “takes” will be of my various friends and those I follow. I admit this can be sometimes comforting given the horrendous news we deal with daily. However, it also kind of implies that real people are reacting, thinking, and forming commentary algorithmically, as if our thoughts now mimic apps like Spotify and Pandora which play tracks from one’s favorite musicians; or at least similar artists which won’t offend the listener’s taste. How banal and horrifying all at once.

With podcasts or Youtube videos, as well as message boards, one can see political commentary forming a script, where individuals rattle off reels of their “greatest hits” of points, observations, and reflections, rather than engaging with the subject matter. No matter how hard we try, social media can never replicate oral traditions and real-life conversations. Dysfunction is baked into modern capitalist-based digital communication.

How being extremely online works to the advantage of the few at the expense of the many is easy to ascertain. We are told we are living in an “attention economy” and the extremely online predicate their behavior on this premise, even those who ostensibly identify as anti-capitalist. The extremely online mimic the 24/7 blather of mainstream media discourse, because nothing is too insignificant not to post, nothing too small not to get out in the lead as being “on top of” any given issue or current event. This is the sort of competitive striving absolutely essential to capitalism.

Outrage, shock, compassion, repulsion, empathy, and even “rational, objective” sober media analysis vie for our attention spans, and the extremely online prey upon those among their followers who due to loneliness, emotional issues, or escapism already spend too much time online, and are thus more vulnerable to screen addiction, sensationalist appeals, fear-mongering, gossip, consumer trends, etc.

Of course, the mainstream outlets have been deeply complicit, as it suits their financial interests. As seen by the CNN executive during the 2016 election gloating that the insane coverage of Trump was horrible for the country, but good for their bottom line, or something to that effect.

As for the reaction time of news sources, and thus political commentary, it may strain one’s memory to recall, but only twenty years ago any major news stories that broke after the evening news broadcast did not appear until the next morning, nearly an eight to twelve hour delay

Now, every media outlet is constantly bombarding us with every update and crisis in real time. The main reaction to this (notwithstanding the many sincere alternative media, community-level, and individual critiques) in the collective consciousness is shock and numbness, and it only compounds daily.

Now, many leftists tend to unconsciously mimic the same tendencies of mainstream media. This is done by copying the tactics of mainstream online influencers who use marketing, PR, and advertising firms to get ahead. This is done by pandering to the crowd and reacting to every Trump and establishment faux pas, whether Democrat or Republican. This is done by opportunistic virtue signaling and online activism viewed as a substitute for in person organizing. The virtual becomes more real than the real. Egos become more tied to the digital social environs, a derivative of a derivative.

Apparently the twisted logic is that if the extremely online use social media as a way for exposure and fame, it’s worth it. Social media becomes a tool, a means to an end to uproot the system. The downside tends to be that we become instruments of social media itself, not a new phenomenon in Western Civilization.

Posting dozens of times a day on social media simply is not in anyone’s best interest. It is in the best interest of capital, however. Why else would one post 30, 50, a hundred times a day if not to create an attention economy around oneself, to gain digital “followers” whose gaze will be diverted from possibly more important issues closer and dearer to their hearts…as well as to one’s family and friends, one’s material reality and ability to help the vulnerable and those in need close to them.

What should be obvious is every moment spent online is time away from the natural world and thus a huge time-suck where we exist as zombified, trance-induced crazy people for more information, useless updates, more drivel-data and bits of trivialities that do not change a thing.

Being online means being on the grid and the computing power needed to keep our information superhighway running is increasing like a runaway train. Despite the relatively low cost of powering one’s individual smartphone and computer/laptop/tablet etc., the internet via server farms, cell towers, etc. uses approximately 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption and the total energy use for the web increases by about 20% each year. The rollout of harmful 5G technology and internet of things only will accelerate the technological dystopia we’re enmeshed in.

Regardless of what technophiles and delusional people want to think, modern industrial civilization is a fad. We are going to have to go through an extended period of degrowth and lowering our power consumption and that will have to include less internet use. Most especially, too much smartphone use must be addressed head-on. Smartphones need to go away, for good, and it’s not too hard to imagine a workable society without them. It existed twenty years ago.

This should be simple enough to understand, but again, chronic habitual internet use and social media creates a form of addiction which leads to denialism. For those that do partake in nuanced forms of online discussion, in message boards or even in comment sections, yet limit, self-reflect, and moderate your use, congratulations. This is not directed at you. This is written is response to the serial social media addicts. For those in this group, I’ll posit that one of the root reasons for this malady is that our addict-Left comrades unconsciously identify with the system.

This isn’t meant to sound callous, these people are suffering to different degrees, and I do empathize. Boredom, loneliness, and lack of in-person human connection are endemic to our culture and these factors shouldn’t be minimized when understanding addictive behavior.

Part of the problem is the speed of society now. It’s understandable, people want to keep up with events and chime in with their two cents. It’s a human reaction. Part of the problem is also that the people who have convinced themselves they are part of the solution remain part of the problem. Mainly, because they are unable or unwilling to critically examine the technophilic ideology at the heart of the capitalist-based internet.

The “Left-opinion makers”, as the Situationists were wont to call them, thus fall hopelessly further into the spectacle.

Caveat

Social media use is not a horrible thing in and of itself. Although much of its use tends to replicate competitive and hierarchical relations, there are alternative visions of what the web could be like. Internet and social media companies could have been, and should be now, directed through public funding and non-profit models decades ago to engage and educate working class people, to provide jobs and new opportunities, and to raise the consciousness of the public sphere. This could easily be done even within the confines of a social-democratic system.

What we have now is a web and social media landscape that is largely, but not completely, irredeemable. Again, this does not mean one should completely ignore it, only that social media should be seen as a vessel to get people out of their homes and into the streets: like we saw in Tunisia, in Egypt and many other nations during the Arab Spring.

I don’t know if this metaphor is useful at all, but social media could be used as a sort of liberatory portals or gateways, networks to awaken the masses from their slumber, to take them out of the virtual and into the “natural” world. Web and social media technology can be used to “tune in” people to serious movement-building, to Marx, to environmental protests, to issues like climate change and nuclear war, through digital communication; but eventually there has to be a period when citizens step through to the other side and “drop out” to take the struggle onto the public squares. The thing is, many of those involved in just such struggles seem hopelessly “addicted” or too enamored with the power of internet technology itself, much like what has happened with the fetishization of the internal combustion engine, the printing press, the personal computer, and many other examples.

The Professional Bloviators

Sadly, quite a few self-professed anti-capitalist public intellectuals seem to be ensnared by bourgeois ideology today. Many rightly view our political and economic systems as hopelessly corrupt, yet still cling to the privilege, perks, and soapboxes offered by their academic positions (tied to student and faculty exploitation, which is either conveniently unmentioned or under-emphasized), viewing their own credentials as somehow a basis for a true and fair meritocracy, as if academia is somehow above the vagaries of blind chance, sheer luck, white privilege, and jockeying for power.

Any academic worth their salt should be either heavily insinuating, or outright stating to their students, that college is a huge waste of time and money, depending on how much “free speech” they can actually afford to say without getting canned. Universities function today as huge indoctrination camps to train the next generation of good “liberals” (or good Germans, it might be more appropriate to say) who will never question or threaten to overturn the system: the professional-managerial upper-middle class technocrats, financiers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

Thus, even some dissident academics manage to paint themselves into a corner with ineffectual arguments backing the college system, turf wars, theatrical posturing, lack of engagement with the working class, etc. This has all been said before, but again, it may be worth repeating. For instance, in 2011 in the US there were some “socialists” and “anarchists” supporting the US/UK/French bombing of Libya, and a few who equivocated and vacillated, citing the responsibility to protect civilians, parroting State Department propaganda. Oy vey.

The internet and social media has accelerated this trend, making things worse among the wider population, as even those with core anti-capitalist ideas fall into internecine bickering. This is peak aspersionary politics, or passive-aggressiveness if you prefer, which apes wider bourgeois culture. To recast Allen Ginsberg’s opening line of Howl for today, and I only mean this half-jokingly, we can think of something like: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by social media.” Some Left twitterati self-identify as being “extremely online”: brazenly, unashamedly, and unreflectively revealing the depths of their own screen addictions.

Aldous Huxley described the brain as a “reducing valve”, yet I’ve not heard a fully-encompassing phrase for the situation created by a digital milieu where web algorithms which reinforce harmful beliefs and behavior, prey on our addictions, amplify hatred, sow discord, polarize media and community; by devices that seize and sustain our attention long after we realize it no longer serves our interests; by neurotransmitter hijacking, empathy-deadening, critical-thinking atrophying smartphones and media built explicitly to mine us for money, use our thoughts/photos/creativity/etc. as free content while social media companies and those who advertise on the platforms make billions, and generally to simultaneously distract, outrage, and numb us. “Limbic capitalism3 is the closest term I’ve come across, but perhaps the more brutal, if less artful, phrase is more apt: mind control.

There is less and less nuance and space for radical dissent as many left-leaning alternative media and social media influencers close ranks and offer only very mild criticism of social democratic policies. Again, the striving is self-evident, is it not?

These are symptoms of unhealthy minds, formatted/manipulated/brainwashed to choose between false binaries no matter what contradictions follow from the starting premises of whatever topic is at hand. For instance, take the so-called socialist opportunists who offer very mild public criticism of the Green New Deal, or those who don’t mention the huge cuts in military spending needed to give the deal teeth, so as not to seem confrontational or radical, or perhaps to save what’s left of their perceived (yet, worthless) reputations. In other words, their take is: we don’t have time to build real socialism. Let’s form a coalition with the new social democrats, as if that didn’t end in complete disaster over 100 years ago.

Paths Forward

Now, of course it’s true that reform can indeed broaden and deepen the prospects for revolution, and it is not an either/or proposition, as Rosa Luxembourg explained so well. Yet, we cannot let the crass opportunism and striving for attention on digital media to enact important reforms derail us from steeping workers, students, minorities, and women in the rich intellectual tradition woven by the anti-capitalist Left.

Right in the introduction to the Social Reform or Revolution, Luxemburg states: “The entire strength of the modern labor movement rests on theoretic knowledge.” Despite big advances in the last three years, clearly there is a need for the deep type of work involving the framework for constructing and advancing a truly emancipatory Green New Deal, as well as fighting for open borders, the abolition of prisons and police, and the military-industrial complex.

Anything less than a systematic and intersectional approach will do a huge disservice to the movement and will replicate the cloistered, privileged milieu which unduly benefits the extremely online and their techno-utopian backers.

Reform is welcome because it can lead to tolerance, and its eventual byproduct, solidarity. Solidarity is a radiating emotional, behavioral, and intellectual stance from which flow social bonding and necessary healing mechanisms for our culture. The main ideals of environmental, social, and economic justice revolve around solidarity. Which gives us space to breathe, and here I’m reminded of Eric Garner’s last words. The minorities and the poor in this country have been suffocating for centuries. With no mass base, even the good intentions of those in Congress, such as the “Squad” who advocate for redistributive measures, will be for naught.

If some of today’s US socialist “thought leaders” are so spineless to feign from even mentioning how the prospect of renewable energy corporations left in the hands of private control will end in utter disaster, or to simply pretend it won’t, there’s not much left to say to these people. Then there are US socialists who advocate insanely for nuclear power. Forget theoretical knowledge.  This is basic common sense.  Nuclear energy is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. If there is intimidation by peers, or simply self-censorship, or to maintain a lifestyle by promoting such anti-life policies on the Left, well, it’s entirely understandable, predictable, and wretched. It’s also an abdication of responsibility: clearly these are bourgeois stances.

To sum up, pointing fingers at the ruling classes’ blatantly obvious sociopathic tendencies provides the convenient scapegoats and diversionary tactics from confronting the holes in many of our own thinking

Back to theoretic knowledge for a minute. First, we have to take into account the anti-intellectual climate here in the US. One encounters quite a few semi-influential figures, especially on the right but increasingly in anti-capitalist outlets, which are quick to criticize French postmodernists, or the Frankfurt School, or various strains of thought which are deemed too obscure or weighty.

There’s no time for theory is one of their complaints, because it is too time-consuming or turns off too many people. So whatever is too complicated for the gate-keeping digital left-liberal editors is thrown by the wayside, but it ain’t clear where this process is headed other than an even more dumbed-down society. What is clear is we are dealing with lightweights.  It’s pretty paternalistic too, because the subtext seems to be that regular people are just too dumb to be introduced to “Theory” and serious academic work.

The other side to this is that many of the same people who are wonderful at explaining theory or offering political critique, many of the “the Left opinion makers”, have absolutely no environmental or ecological knowledge base. You wouldn’t trust them with a shovel; never mind on a factory floor, a communal farm, starting an activist movement or union, or organizing a cooperative. The materialism part of the equation never kicked in. It’s a function of middle-class squeamishness that needs to be squashed.

Another point I want to mention is the US and UK analytic preference for social critique and philosophical investigation, in contrast to the continental style. And I cannot emphasize enough that the dominant Anglophone trend is to turn socialism into an equation, a formula. Put another way, to offer models of governance and even to organize in the technocratic style. Not only that, but to uncritically accept a model for the future based on unrestrained use of technology, with very little understanding of environmental impacts,  conservation, or basic ecology in general.

We see this techno-fetishism in some of the ideas floating around such as “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, notably Aaron Bastani’s recent work of the same title. Bastani is close to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. And look who gives a plug for the book, Bhaskar Sunkara. And if you follow these connections down the rabbit hole you’ll see Sunkara’s most recent work gets a plug from Ezra Klein of Vox. So there are all these ties from UK socialists to US democratic socialists to elitist technocratic liberals. And what is in common is a shared naivety regarding technology.

Again, ideas around degrowth are never discussed by the automation admirers. It’s clearly a total dismissal of the idea to preserve their own affluence. Total energy use in the West will have to decrease immensely. The economy, which is inexorably tied to energy use, will have to contract. Nearly all large buildings will have to be retrofitted to remain cooler in the summer and warmer in winter using natural insulation methods. Many large office buildings, skyscrapers, malls, etc. will simply have to be abandoned because there is no way to heat/cool them even remotely efficiently. Modern agriculture will have to be dismantled and converted to decentralized permaculture community-worked gardens.

None of this is even mentioned by the automators. This is because their thinking, their ways of being online, have already started to slip into the manner of the automaton. Which many people acknowledged, where Brzezinski dispassionately saw it as an inevitability of modern life, and famously Marcuse saw it as a downright horror in his One Dimensional Man.

The majority of the world can see through all of this talk of AI, robot, quantum computer, 5G drivel. Most people understand, even if they cannot quite communicate their ideas as coldly or eloquently as the technophiles, that the mind cannot be reduced to a mechanical device or a computer processor. As below, so above, society cannot be viewed or treated as a factory floor for renewable energy powered robots to bring us to some Jetsons or Star Trek lifestyle.

The opportunities for control and manipulation of minds have already grown at a frightening pace in the past fifty years. Even further automation would simply open up more avenues for alienation and exploitation. Here’s how. A pro-automation society would be more open to new hierarchies created by divides among the digitally literate, could empower the pharmaceutical companies to create dangerous new drugs to control moods and perception, could open up more geo-engineering of the planet, to more spying and tracking of individuals, and generally more of the full-spectrum digitization of our lives.

This isn’t to suggest that those among the extremely online don’t have any good ideas, or that the FALCers don’t either. It’s simply a reminder that some of these people are being very naïve in regard to the future of technology, some are materially benefitting from the current toxic social media environment and are therefore biased, and others do not realize the internal logic of the system which engenders some of the very barriers they wish to destroy. In most cases high technology acts as a drug, with an intelligence of its own, and once you’re on the ride you don’t control where you’re going to get off.

  1. Ronit, Purian, “Technophilia: A New Model For Technology Adoption” (2011), UK Academy for Information Systems Conference Proceedings 2011, Paper 41.
  2. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books, New York, 1992.
  3. Courtwright, David. “How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on our Addicted Brains”, Quillette, May 31, 2019.

Why China will win the Artificial Intelligence Race

Two Artificial Intelligence-driven Internet paradigms may emerge in the near future. One will be based on logic, smart enterprises and human merit while the other may morph into an Orwellian control tool. Even former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has foreseen a bifurcation of the Internet by 2028 and China’s eventual triumph in the AI race by 2030.

In the meantime, the US seems more interested in deflecting the smart questions of today than in building the smart factories of tomorrow.  Nothing embodies this better than the recent attempt by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) to create an AI-based filter to “stamp out fake-news outlets before the stories spread too widely.”

But what exactly constitutes fake news? Does it include media-colluded lies over Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction in 2002? Or the egregiously fraudulent Nurse Nayirah testimony a decade earlier? Will the binary logic of “either you are with us or against us” be used to certify news sources?

According to US President Donald J. Trump, fake news is a 24/7 specialty of the CNN, Washington Post and just about every other US mainstream media. The author agrees with Trump on this note. As a futurist, he relies heavily on credible news sources.  The CNN and WaPo therefore rarely feature on the trusted list. At the same time, the author squarely blames Trump for the ongoing US-China trade war. This raises several questions: How will MIT’s AI filtration system treat editorial divergences in the same publication? Will they all be feathered and tarred as “fake news” once a threshold – 150 articles according to the new system – is crossed? How will it evaluate analytical gems in the unregulated alternative media and open source fora? Will social media evidences, planted and generated by a critical mass of trolls, be machine-aggregated to determine true news?

It is also disturbing to note that this digital commissariat is being partly developed by Qatar – a nation that has been routinely singled out for its human rights abuses, use of slave labour, rampant anti-Semitism, runaway fake news and support of jihadi terrorism.  While Qatar and the US media have incessantly accused Syria of wielding chemical weapons, experts from MIT and the UN have adduced otherwise. How will such contradictory reports be treated in the future as more Gulf Arab money pour into MIT and its cohort research institutions?

Not Made-in-America

The future of US artificial intelligence and its emerging technologies is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign talent drawn from Asia and Eastern Europe.  This is unsurprising as 44 million US citizens are currently saddled with a staggering $1.53 trillion in student loans – with a projected 40 percent default rate by 2023.

The US student loan bubble is expanding in tandem with the rising un-employability of young Americans. Fake news overload naturally leads to pervasive intellectual stupefaction.  US policy-makers will ignore this ominous trend, just as they ignore the perennial national slide in global indices that measure the quality of life, education and human capital yields. Can the human mind – incessantly subjected to politicized fairy tales and violent belief systems – be capable of continual innovation?  It is, of course, easier to blame an external bogeyman over a purely internal malaise. Herein lies the utility of fake news; one that will be filtered by a digital nanny and policed by thousands of ideologically-biased fact-checkers.  Funded, of course, by the US deep state!

Somehow no known form of intelligence – artificial or otherwise – has impressed US policy-makers on the national security dimensions of the immigrant-citizen digital divide. High-achieving immigrant communities, for example, may be targeted by irate citizens during a period of intense economic distress, precipitating a reverse brain-drain to their countries of origin.

Even otherwise, the children of highly-skilled naturalized immigrants face a variety of discriminatory practices when they come of age. The most notorious of this is the “Asia fail” intake regimen at vaunted US universities where smart second-generation Asian Americans are routinely sacrificed on the altars of artificial diversity and multiculturalism.  In future, a digital panopticon may selectively reject meritorious applicants based on “inappropriate” social media posts made a lifetime ago.  Any litigation-unearthed bias in the admissions process can be blamed on a technical glitch. Or on the Russians!

Forget about merit! The prevalent imperative is to develop next generation rubber-stampers for the privileged 0.1%.

Divergent Futures

Just like the Internet, the middle classes of a rump US-led Greater Eurabia and a China-led world may have separate trajectories by 2030.  With China experiencing a middle class boom and record numbers of STEM graduates, AI is poised to boost the quantity and quality of a new generation of digital scientists.

At the same time, the search algorithms of Google, YouTube, Facebook and its cohorts are making it harder for individuals to access critical open source data and analyses.  The convenient pretext here is “fake news” and the need to protect society from misleading information.  Why think… when a state-led AI Commissar can do the thinking for you? Ironically, the West routinely charges China for this very practice. How is it possible then for China to develop rapidly and become a leader in AI?  In the core Asian societies, the art of “constructive criticism” incentivises erudition, knowledge and a face-saving approach.  Knowledge is also unfettered by ideology or provenance.

The US, on the other hand, is hopelessly trying to find a balance between its ideological dictates, visceral populism and next-generation knowledge. Talent and AI are sacrificed in the process. According to Google’s Eric Schmidt, “Iran… produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world. I want them here. I want them working for Alphabet and Google. It’s crazy not to let these people in.”

It is even crazier to think that a smart society can be moulded by AI-mediated claptrap and news filters.  This is why China will win the AI race, and Asia will prevail in the Internet of Ideas (IoI).

Haiti: An Example of Fake News by Omission

The people who created Facebook and Google must be smart. They’re billionaires, their companies are worth multi-multi billions, their programs are used by billions around the world.

But all these smart people, because of Congressional pressure, have swallowed the stories about “fake news”. Facebook hired a very large staff of people to read everything posted by users to weed out the fake stuff. That didn’t last too long at all before the company announced that it wasn’t “comfortable” deciding which news sources are the most trustworthy in a “world with so much division”. We all could have told them that, couldn’t we?

Facebook’s previous efforts to ask its users to determine the accuracy of news did not turn out any better. Last year, the company launched a feature that allowed users to flag news stories they felt were inaccurate. The experiment was shuttered after nine months.

“Fake news”, however, is not the problem. News found in the mainstream media is rarely fake; i.e., actual lies made from whole cloth, totally manufactured. This was, however, a common practice of the CIA during the first Cold War. The Agency wrote editorials and phony news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of CIA authorship or CIA payment to the particular media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.1

Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 is another valid example of “fake news”, but like the CIA material this was more a government invention than a media creation.

The main problem with the media today, as earlier, is what is left out of articles dealing with controversial issues. For example, the very common practice during the first Cold War of condemning the Soviet Union for taking over much of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. This takeover is certainly based on fact. But the condemnation is very much misapplied if no mention is made of the fact that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism once and for all; the Russians in World Wars I and II lost about 40 million people because the West had twice used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviets were determined to close down the highway. It was not simply “communist expansion”.

Or the case of Moammar Gaddafi. In the Western media he is invariably referred to as “the Libyan dictator”. Period. And he certainly was a dictator. But he also did many marvelous things for the people of Libya (like the highest standard of living in Africa) and for the continent of Africa (like creating the African Union).

Or the case of Vladimir Putin. The Western media never tires of reminding its audience that Putin was once a KGB lieutenant colonel – wink, wink, we all know what that means, chuckle, chuckle. But do they ever remind us with a wink or chuckle that US President George H.W. Bush was once – not merely a CIA officer, but the fucking Director of the CIA!

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg now says: “We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective”; “broadly trusted” sources being those that are “affirmed by a significant cross-section of users”.

Right, a significant cross-section of users – Will that include me? Highly unlikely. Broadly trusted sources – Will that include media like my Anti-Empire Report? Just as unlikely. Anything close? Maybe a single token leftist website amongst a large list, I’d guess. And a single token rightist website. Zuckerberg and his ilk probably think that the likes of NBC, NPR and CNN are very objective and are to be trusted when it comes to US foreign-policy issues or capitalism-vs-socialism issues.

On January 19 Google announced that it would cancel a two-month old experiment, called Knowledge Panel, that informed its users that a news article had been disputed by “independent fact-checking organizations”. Conservatives had complained that the feature unfairly targeted a right-leaning outlet.

Imagine that. It’s almost like people have political biases. Both Facebook and Google are still experimenting, trying to find a solution that I do not think exists. My solution is to leave it as it is. There’s no automated way to remove bias or slant or judgment from writing or from those persons assigned to evaluate such.2

Fake news by omission – the Haiti example

“I’m happy to have a president that will bluntly speak the truth in negotiations,” Eric Prince commented on Breitbart News. “If the president says some places are shitholes, he’s accurate.”3 Thus did Mr. Eric Prince pay homage to Mr. Donald Trump. Prince, of course, being the renowned founder of Blackwater, the private army which in September 2007 opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more.4

Speaking of Haiti and other “shitholes”, Prince declared:

It’s a sad characterization of many of these places. It’s not based on race. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with corrupt incompetent governments that abuse their citizens, and that results in completely absent infrastructure to include open sewers, and unclean water, and crime. It’s everything we don’t want in America.

Like the US media, Prince failed to point out that on two occasions in the recent past when Haiti had a decent government, led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was motivated to improve conditions, the United States was instrumental in nullifying its effect. This was in addition to fully supporting the Duvalier dictatorship for nearly 30 years prior to Aristide.

Aristide, a reformist priest, was elected to the presidency in 1991 but was ousted eight months later in a military coup. The 1993 Clinton White House thus found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend – because of all their rhetoric about “democracy” – that they supported the democratically-elected Aristide’s return to power from his exile in the US. After delaying his return for more than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that he would not help the poor at the expense of the rich – literally! – and that he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its workers receiving starvation wages, literally! If Aristide had thoughts about breaking the agreement forced upon him, he had only to look out his window – US troops were stationed in Haiti for the remainder of his term.

In 2004, with Aristide once again the elected president, the United States staged one of its most blatant coups ever. On February 28, 2004, American military and diplomatic personnel arrived at Aristide’s home to inform him that his private American security agents must either leave immediately to return to the US or fight and die; that the remaining 25 of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government, who were to arrive the next day, had been blocked by the United States from coming; that foreign and Haitian rebels were nearby, heavily armed, determined and ready to kill thousands of people in a bloodbath. Aristide was pressured to sign a “letter of resignation” before he was flown into exile by the United States.

And then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the sincerest voice he could muster, told the world that Aristide “was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth.” Powell sounded as sincere as he had sounded a year earlier when he gave the UN a detailed (albeit imaginary) inventory of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, shortly before the US invasion.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was on record, by word and deed, as not being a great lover of globalization or capitalism. This was not the kind of man the imperial mafia wanted in charge of the Western Hemisphere’s assembly plant. It was only a matter of time before they took action.5

It should be noted that the United States also kept progressives out of power in El Salvador, another of Trump’s “shithole” countries.6

Liberals today

On January 24 I went to the Washington, DC bookstore Politics & Prose to hear David Cay Johnston, author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. To my surprise he repeatedly said negative things about Russia, and in the Q&A session I politely asked him about this. He did not take kindly to that and after a very brief exchange cut me off by asking for the next person in line to ask a question.

That was the end of our exchange. No one in the large audience came to my defense or followed up with a question in the same vein; i.e., the author as cold warrior. The only person who spoke to me afterwards had only this to say as he passed me by: “Putin kills people”. Putin had not been mentioned. I should have asked him: “Which government never kills anyone?”

Politics & Prose is a very liberal bookstore. (Amongst many authors of the left, I’ve spoken there twice.) Its patrons are largely liberal. But liberals these days are largely cold warriors it appears. Even though the great majority of them can’t stand Trump they have swallowed the anti-Russia line of his administration and the media, perhaps because of the belief that “Russian meddling” in the election led to dear Hillary’s defeat, the proof of which sees more non-existent with each passing day.

Sam Smith (who puts out the Progressive Review in Maine) has written about Hillary’s husband:

A major decline of progressive America occurred during the Clinton years as many liberals and their organizations accepted the presence of a Democratic president as an adequate substitute for the things liberals once believed in. Liberalism and a social democratic spirit painfully grown over the previous 60 years withered during the Clinton administration.

And shortly afterward came Barack Obama, not only a Democrat but an African-American, the perfect setup for a lot more withering, health care being a good example. The single-payer movement was regularly gaining momentum when Obama took office; it seemed like America was finally going to join the modern advanced world. But Mr. O put a definitive end to that. Profit – even of the type Mr. Trump idealizes – would still determine who is to live and who is to die, just like Jews intone during Rosh Hashanah.

Poor America. It can travel to other planets, create a military force powerful enough to conquer the world ten times over, invent the Internet and a thousand other things … but it can’t provide medical care for all its people.

Now, three of the richest men in the world, the heads of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, which collectively employ more than a million people, have announced they are partnering to create an independent company aimed at reining in ever-increasing health-care costs for companies and employees alike. The three men will pursue this objective through a company whose initial focus will be on technology solutions that will provide US employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost. Almost no details were made available on how they plan to do this, but I predict that whatever they do will fail. They have lots of models to emulate – in Canada, Europe, Cuba and elsewhere – but to an American nostril these examples all suffer from the same unpleasant odor, the smell of socialism.

I say this even though their announcement states that the new company will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints”.7 And Warren Buffet, head of Berkshire Hathaway, is cited on CNN as follows: “Warren Buffett says America is ready for single-payer health care. The billionaire investor tells PBS NewsHour that government-run health insurance ‘probably is the best system’ because it would control escalating costs. ‘We are such a rich country. In a sense, we can afford to do it.’”8

Of course, the US could have afforded to do it 50 years ago. I really hope that my cynicism is misplaced.

The Trump Bubble (Written before the market crashed)

Repeatedly, President Trump and his supporters have bragged about the “booming” stock market, attributing it to the administration’s marvelous economic policies and the great public confidence in those policies. Like much of what comes out of the Donald’s mouth … this is simply nonsense.

The stock market is, and always has been, just a gambling casino, a glorified Las Vegas. Every day a bunch of people, (gamblers) buy and/or sell one stock or another; sometimes they sell the same stock they bought the day before; or the hour before; or the minute before; the next day they may well do the exact reverse. All depending on the latest news headline, or what a corporation has done to elicit attention, or what a friend just told them, or a fortune teller, or that day’s horoscope, or just a good ol’ hunch. Or they make up a reason; anything to avoid thinking that they’re just pulling the lever of a slot machine.

And many people buy certain stocks because other people are buying it. This is what stock market analysts call a speculative bubble. Prick the confidence and the bubble bursts. “The stock market,” Naomi Klein has observed, “has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, who can throw one of its world-shaking tantrums.”

Walter Winchell, the 1960-70s powerful and widely-syndicated gossip columnist of the New York Daily News, famously wrote that he lost his faith in the stock market when he saw that a stock could jump sharply in price simply because he happened to mention something related to the company in his column.

And all this occurs even when the stock market is operating in the supposedly honest way it was designed to operate. What are we to make of it when sophisticated investors devise a computer scam for instantaneous buying and selling, as has happened several times in recent years?

Yet President Trump and his fans would have us believe that the big jump in stock prices of the past year is testimony to his sterling leadership and oh-so-wise policies. What will they say when the market crashes? As Trump himself will crash.

Driverless police cars

Yes, that’s what they’re thinking of next. Among other things these cars will be able to catch speeders and issue tickets. But here’s the real test of the system’s Artificial Intelligence – can the police car be taught how to recognize a young black man, drive to within a few feet of him, and fire a gun at his head?

  1. Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974.
  2. Washington Post, January 19, 20, 23, 25, 2018.
  3. Breitbart News radio program, January 12, 2018.
  4. Wikipedia entry for Eric Prince
  5. William Blum, Killing Hope, Chapters 22 and 55; Rogue State, pp. 202-3, 219-20.
  6. Killing Hope, Chapter 54.
  7. Business Wire, January 30, 2018.
  8. CNNMoney, June 28, 2017.

The Next Great Recession?

The transnational capitalist class is pouring billions of dollars into the rapid digitalization of global capitalism as the latest outlet for its surplus accumulated capital and hedging its bets on new investment opportunities in a global police state. But will these ballooning sectors of the global economy allow the world capitalist system to avoid another catastrophic crisis?

There is good reason to believe that recovery will be ephemeral and that another crisis looms on the horizon.  The underlying structural conditions that triggered the Great Depression of 2008 remain in place and a new round of restructuring in the global economy now underway is likely to further aggravate them.  These conditions include unprecedented levels of inequality, public and private debt and financial speculation.   A new crisis could be triggered by a bursting of the current stock market bubble, especially in the high-tech sector, by defaults in household or public debt, or by the outbreak of a new international military conflict.

Growth has plodded forward since 2008 through monetary instruments such as “quantitative easing” (essentially, printing money and making it available as credit) and bank and corporate bailouts, along with escalating consumer debt, a wave of speculative investment, especially in the high-tech sector, and ever increasing levels of financial speculation in the global casino. Now, however, central banks are running out of monetary instruments to promote growth.

In the United States, which has long been the “market of last resort” for the global economy, household debt is higher than it has been for almost all of postwar history. U.S. households owed in 2016 nearly $13 trillion in student loans, credit card debt, auto loans and mortgages. In just about every OECD country the ratio of income to household debt remains historically high and has steadily deteriorated since 2008.  The global bond market – an indicator of total government debt worldwide – has escalated since 2008 and now surpasses $100 trillion.

Meanwhile, the gap between the productive economy and “fictitious capital” grows ever wider as financial speculation spirals out of control.  Gross world product, or the total value of goods and services produced worldwide, stood at some $75 trillion in 2015, whereas currency speculation alone amounted to $5.3 trillion a day that year and the global derivatives market was estimated at a mind-boggling $1.2 quadrillion.

The more farsighted among transnational elites have expressed growing concern over this fragility in the global economy and the specter of chronic long-term stagnation.  Former World Bank and U.S. Treasury official Lawrence Summers warned last year of “secular stagnation” in the global economy, which has “entered unexplored, dangerous territory.”  Yet these elites are not prepared to address the larger backdrops to global economic malaise, namely, capitalism’s intractable problem of over-accumulation.

Over-accumulation: Capitalism’s Achilles Heel

The global economy remains plagued by the structural Achilles heel of capitalism – over-accumulation.  The polarization of income and wealth is endemic to capitalism since the capitalist class owns the means of producing wealth and therefore appropriates as profits as much as possible of the wealth that society collectively produces.  If capitalists cannot actually sell (or “unload”) the products of their plantations, factories, and offices then they cannot make profit.  Left unchecked, expanding social polarization results in crisis – in stagnation, recessions, depressions, and social upheavals.

As capital went global from the 1970s and on the emerging transnational capitalist class, or TCC, was able to get around state intervention in the capitalist market and undermine the redistributive programs that had been established in the wake of the 1930s Great Depression.  The TCC promoted vast neo-liberal restructuring, trade liberalization, and integration of the world economy.  Public policy has been reconfigured through austerity, bailouts, corporate subsidies, government debt and the global bond market as governments transfer wealth directly and indirectly from working people to the TCC.

The result has been unprecedented global inequalities that, far from diminishing, have escalated at an astonishing rate since the 2008 Great Recession.  According to the development agency Oxfam, just one percent of humanity owned over half of the world’s wealth in 2016 and the top 20 percent owned 94.5 of that wealth, while the remaining 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent.  Given such extreme polarization of income and wealth, the global market cannot absorb the output of the global economy.  The Great Recession marked the onset of a new structural crisis of over-accumulation.  Corporations are now awash in cash but they do not have opportunities to profitably invest this cash. Corporate profits surged after the 2008 crisis and have reached near record highs at the same time that corporate investment has declined.

As this uninvested capital accumulates, enormous pressures build up to find outlets for unloading the surplus.  Trumpism in the United States reflects a far-right response to the crisis worldwide that involves authoritarian neo-liberalism alongside a neo-fascist mobilization of the disaffected, often nativist, sectors of the working class.  Yet this repressive neo-liberalism ends up further restricting the market and therefore aggravating the underlying crisis of over-accumulation.

The TCC has turned to two outlets to unload surplus.  One is militarized accumulation.  The wars on drugs and terrorism, the construction of border walls, the expansion of prison-industrial complexes, deportation regimes, police, the military, and other security apparatuses, are major sources of state-organized profit making.  The Pentagon budget increased 91 percent in real terms between 1998 and 2011 while defense industry profits nearly quadrupled during this period.  Here there is a convergence around global capitalism’s political need for social control and repression and its economic need to perpetuate accumulation in the face of stagnation.  Putting aside the escalating rhetoric of Trump’s war mongering, there is a built in war drive to current course of capitalist globalization.  Historically wars have pulled the capitalist system out of crisis while they have also served to deflect attention from political tensions and problems of legitimacy.

The Digitalization of Global Capitalism

The other outlet has been a new wave of financial speculation in recent years, and especially in the over-valued tech sector.  The tech sector is now at the cutting edge of capitalist globalization and is driving the digitalization of the entire global economy.  Karl Marx famously declared in The Communist Manifesto that “all that is solid melts into air” under the dizzying pace of chance wrought by capitalism.  Now the world economy stands at the brink of another period of massive restructuring.  At the heart of this restructuring is the digital economy based on more advanced information technology, on the collection, processing, and analysis of data, and on the application of digitalization to every aspect of global society, including war and repression.

Computer and information technology first introduced in the 1980s provided the original technological basis for globalization.  The first generation of capitalist globalization from the that decade and on involved the creation of a globally integrated production and financial system whereas more recently digitalization and the rise of “platforms” have facilitated a very rapid transnationalization of services, which by 2017 accounted for some 70 percent of the total gross world product.  Platforms refer to digital infrastructures that enable two or more groups to interact.  As the dependence of economic activity on platforms spreads the tech sector becomes ever more strategic to global capitalism.  Digitalization and the transnationalization of services have moved to the center of the global capitalist agenda.

In recent years there has been another wave of technological development that has brought us to the verge of the “4th industrial revolution,” based on robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, bio- and nanotechnology, quantum and cloud computing, new forms of energy storage, and autonomous vehicles.  While the tech sector that drives forward this new revolution constitutes only a small portion of the gross world product, digitalization encompasses the entire global economy, from manufacturing and finance to services, and in both the formal and informal sectors.  It is central to all of the processes associated with the global economy, from controlling and outsourcing workers, the flexibility of production processes, global financial flows, the coordination of global chains of supply, subcontracting and outsourcing, record keeping, marketing and sales.

In his study Platform Capitalism, political scientist Nick Srnicek shows how institutional investors, especially speculative hedge and mutual funds, poured billions of dollars into the tech sector since the 2008 Great Recession.  This tech sector became a major new outlet for uninvested capital in the face of stagnation.  Investment in it jumped from $17 billion in 1970, to $65 billion in 1980 to $175 billion in 1990, $496 billion in 2016.

A handful of U.S.-based tech companies have absorbed enormous amounts of cash from financiers desperate for new investment opportunities.  In 2017 Apple held $262 billion in reserves, Microsoft held $133 billion, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) held $95 billion, Cisco held $58 billion, Oracle held $66 billion, and so on.

Apologists for the current ruling order claim that the digital economy will bring high-skilled, high-paid jobs and resolve problems of social polarization and stagnation.  But everything indicates quite the opposite: the digital economy will accelerate the trend towards ever more mass un- and underemployment along with precarious and casualized forms of employment.  We are poised to see the digital decimation of major sectors of the global economy.  Anything can be digitalized, and this is increasingly almost everything.  Automation is now spreading from industry and finance to all branches of services, even to fast food and agriculture as members of the TCC seeks to lower wages and out-compete one another.  It is even expected to replace much professional work such as lawyers, financial analysts, doctors, journalists, accountants, insurance underwriters and librarians.

In the United States the net increase in jobs since 2005 has been almost exclusively in unstable and usually low paid work arrangements.  In the Philippines, an army of 100,000 outsourced workers earn a few hundred dollars a month searching through the content on social media such as Google and Facebook and in cloud storage to remove offensive images.  Yet they too stand to be replaced by digital technology, as do millions of call center, data entry and software workers around the world, along with their counterparts in manufacturing and in other service sector jobs.

Digital Warfare and Global Police State

Digitalization makes possible the creation of a global police state.  As it brings about a concentration of capital and heightened polarization, dominant groups turn to applying the new technologies to mass social control in the face of resistance among the precariatized and the marginalized.  The dual functions of accumulation and social control are played out in the militarization of civil society and the crossover between the military and the civilian application of advanced weapons, tracking, security and surveillance systems.  The result is permanent low-intensity warfare against communities in rebellion as theaters of conflict spread from active war zones to urban and rural localities around the world.

The new systems of warfare and repression made possible by more advanced digitalization include AI powered automated weaponry such as unmanned attack and transportation vehicles, robot soldiers, a new generation of “superdrones,” microwave guns that immobilize, cyber attack and info-warfare, biometric identification, state data mining, and global electronic surveillance that allows for the tracking and control of every movement.  Militarized accumulation and accumulation by repression – already a centerpiece of global capitalism – may become ever more important as it fuses with new fourth industrial revolution technologies, not just as means of maintaining control but as expanding outlets for accumulated surplus that stave off economic collapse.

In this context, the rise of the digital economy appears to fuse three fractions of capital around a combined process of financial speculation and militarized accumulation into which the TCC is unloading billions of dollars in surplus accumulated capital as it hedges its bets on investment opportunities in a global police state.

Financial capital supplies the credit for investment in the tech sector and in the technologies of the global police state.  Tech firms develop and provide the new digital technologies that are now of central importance to the global economy.  Ever since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward in 2013 there has been a torrent of revelations on the collusion of the giant tech firms with the U.S. and other governments in the construction of a global police state.  And the military-industrial-security complex applies this technology as it becomes an outlet for unloading surplus and making profit through the control and repression of rebellious populations.

The structural crisis of capitalism in the 1970s launched the world on the path of neo-liberal globalization.  The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 then threw the world into recession.  The bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 triggered the worst crisis since the 1930s.  Everything indicates that the current tech boom is generating a new bubble that could bring another crisis when it bursts, perhaps in conjunction with debt defaults.  The next Great Recession is likely to cement this fusion of digital economy and global police state, absent a change of course forced on the system by mass mobilization and popular struggle from below.

• An earlier version of this article appeared in Telesur

Capitalism’s Failure Of The Flesh: The Rise Of The Robots

Humankind, being an inherently tool-making species, has always been in a relationship with technology. Our tools, weapons, machines, and appliances are crucial to forging the cultural criteria of human life. At present, amid the technology created phantom-scape of mass media’s lurid — yet somehow sterile — imagery, one can feel as if one’s mind is in danger of being churned to spittle.

On a personal note, an informal consensus has formed among my friends who share a passion for reading: We read far fewer books since the time we became enmeshed with the internet. Worse, we find the feelings of isolation that we have attempted to mitigate by an immersion in online activity, at best, provides only a palliative effect. Yet, in the manner of addiction — or a hopeless love affair —  we are prone to trudge deeper into the psychical morass by further immersion into the very source that is exacerbating our feelings of unease and ennui.

Yet we insist on remaining mentally epoxied to electronic appliances, as the oceans of our technology besieged planet die, as the atmosphere is choked with heat-holding greenhouse gas emissions, and, as a result, exquisite, living things disappear forever.

Therefore, it is crucial to explore why we are so isolated from each other but so connected to our devices, and are married to the belief system that misinforms us, technology can and will lift us from our increasingly perilous predicament. When reality dictates, if the past remains prologue, a fetishising of technology will further enslave us in a de facto techno-dystopia. A reassessment, for numerous reasons, of the relationship between humankind and technology must come to pass.

Moreover, the reevaluation must include machines, at present and in the future, we have created in our own image. For example, those such as IA technologies, that on an increasing basis, will cause a significant number of the workforce to be rendered idle.

Of course, it is a given, bottom line obsessives that they are, capitalists crave to replace workers with an automated labor force. The parasitic breed has always viewed workers as flesh machines, of whom, they were inconvenienced by having to pay wages. Capitalism is, by its very nature, dehumanising. From the advent of the industrial/capitalist epoch, the system has inflicted mass alienation, societal atomisation, and anomie. Moreover, the vast wealth inequity inherent to the system allows the capitalist elite to own the political class — a mindless clutch of flunkies who might as well be robots programmed by the capitalist order to serve their agendas.

The question is, what effect will the nature of being rendered superfluous to the prevailing order have on the powerless masses — who have, up until now, been kept in line by economic coercion, by meretricious, debt-incurring consumer bribes, and by mass media indoctrination and pop culture anaesthesia? Will consumers continue to insist that their mental chains are the very wings of freedom?

Yet the Age Of Mass Mechanisation carries the potential to bestow an era of liberty, artistic exploration, scientific inquiry, intellectual fervour, the pursuit of soul-making, and inspired leisure. Or the polar shift in cultural raison d’etre might inflict a crisis of identity so harrowing that demagogues rise and despots promise to seed a new order but harvest the corpses of dissidents and outsiders.

A couple of weeks back, during a visit to a neighbourhood playground with my four year old, I had a conversation with an executive on voluntary leave from her management position at BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke). She was grousing about a infestation of seaweed choking the beaches of the Florida Keys she had encountered on a recent excursion to the US. When I averred the phenomenon of the warming oceans of the planet, the progenitor of the exponential growth of the sea flora she had been troubled by, was caused, in large measure, by the very socio-economic-cultural dynamic that financed her trip to Florida in the first place…well, it put a crimp in the conversation.

It can be unsettling to be confronted with one’s complicity in the ills of a system that, by its very nature, provides camouflage to its perpetrators — the big bosses, down to its functionaries, and foot soldiers. Soon, she, by a series of subtle moves, extricated herself from the conversation — and I cannot say I blame her. I myself experienced discomfort by the thought of the discomfort I inflicted on her. Therefore, as a general rule, under the tyranny of amiability, which is the rule of the day of the present order, one is tempted to avoid trespassing into the comfort zones that aid in enabling the status quo.

Yet we are faced with the following imperative: The system and its machines must begin to serve humanity, as opposed to what has been the case since the advent of the industrial/technological age: the mass of humanity serving the machine. Therefore, there must arrive a paradigmatic shift in metaphors and the ethos of the era; e.g., a renunciation of the soul-decimating concept of human beings as flesh machines — who must, for the sake of monomaniacal profiteering, divorce themselves from human feeling as well as must forgo exploration, enthusiasm, and craft in the pursuit of expediency.

We do have a choice in the matter, all indications to the contrary. Yet, in the prevailing confusion regarding what ethos should guide our relationship to technology, we are confronted with phenomenon such as the situation chronicled in a recent article in The Guardian. Headlined: “The Sex Robots Are Coming: seedy, sordid – but mainly just sad“.

Regarding the supercilious nature of the headline, wouldn’t it be more propitious for all concerned to ask and explore why, under the present order, men are so alienated, socially awkward and lonely, as opposed to lapsing into all the predictable moral panic, wit-deficient snark, and supercilious value judgments these sorts of stories evoke?

Isn’t being attracted to consumer goods what it is all about, identity-wise, under the present order? Don’t customers demand that the de facto slaves of the service industry evince the demeanour of compliant androids? Isn’t it a given that the underclass workforce, holders of service industry jobs, will soon be replaced by robots? Do we not worship and are ruled by the gospel of the cult of efficiency?

Withal, for the present order to be maintained, it is crucial for the general public to remain both alienated thus using consumerism as a palliative, and that includes the production and retailing of sexualised, simulacrum appliances that mimic sex partners and the psychical release valve of finger-wagging, easy virtue and shallow vitriol aimed at the poor sods who seek comfort from them.

Addendum: I’m much more mortified by robotics designed for surveillance and war than for ones designed for simulacrumatic sex. I’m simply beastly that way.

Robots can be programmed to simulate copulation but it is doubtful that machines can be tuned and tweaked to experience the manifold, complex states of being that define human consciousness and its innate ability for self expression; for example, the ability to express themselves by means of spontaneous generated metaphors. While it is true, AI technologies can mimic forms of poetic and artistic expression but, in any honest account of the processes they utilise, machines engage in the activity sans a depth of feeling, the facility to evince empathy and the ability to access imagination; i.e., the phenomenon we human beings term soulfulness. Sans the ineffable quality of soul, AI entities, as is the case with our present information technology, will contribute the palliative, yet inherently alienating, effects inherent to our hyper-commodified era.

In contrast, writers/artists/activists must proceed to dangerous places. It is imperative that they descend into the danger zone known as the soul. The soul is not a realm inhabited by weightless beings radiating beatific light. Rather, it is a landscape of broken, wounded wanderers; inchoate longing; searing lamentation; the confabulations of imperfect memory; of rutting and rage; transgression; depression; fragmented language; and devouring darkness.

The reductionist metaphors inherent to the age of mechanisation — which limn human beings in mechanised, commodified terms — as opposed to the organic, unfolding pantheon composed of needs, longings and desires we are — inflicts not only alienation from our fellow human beings but from our essential natures. In our misery and confusion, we have bloated our bodies, maimed and poisoned the earth, and scoured the hours of our lives of meaning by the compulsive commodification of all things. Therefore it should not come as a surprise when alienated, lonely men become enamoured of glambots.

We have delivered insult after insult to the soul of the world, and yet it loves us with an abiding and bitter grace. The question remains: do we love it in turn, and deeply enough, to mount a resistance to the present order thus turn the tide against the love-bereft forces responsible for the wholesale destruction of both landscape and soulscape.

How to Fund a Universal Basic Income Without Increasing Taxes or Inflation

The policy of guaranteeing every citizen a universal basic income is gaining support around the world, as automation increasingly makes jobs obsolete. But can it be funded without raising taxes or triggering hyperinflation? In a panel I was on at the NexusEarth cryptocurrency conference in Aspen September 21st-23rd, most participants said no. This is my rebuttal.

In May 2017, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford published the results of a survey of the world’s best artificial intelligence experts, who predicted that there was a 50 percent chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks within 45 years. All human jobs were expected to be automated in 120 years, with Asian respondents expecting these dates much sooner than North Americans. In theory, that means we could all retire and enjoy the promised age of universal leisure. But the immediate concern for most people is that they will be losing their jobs to machines.

That helps explain the recent interest in a universal basic income (UBI) – a sum of money distributed equally to everyone. A UBI has been proposed in Switzerland, trials are beginning in Finland, and there is a successful pilot ongoing in Brazil. The cities of Ontario in Canada, Oakland in California, and Utrecht in the Netherlands are planning trials; two local authorities in Scotland have announced such plans; and politicians across Europe, including UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, have spoken in favor of the concept. Advocates in the US range from Robert Reich to Mark Zuckerberg, Martin Luther King, Thomas Paine, Charles Murray, Elon Musk, Dan Savage, Keith Ellison and Paul Samuelson.  A new economic study found that a UBI of $1000/month to all adults would add $2.5 trillion to the US economy in eight years.

Welfare can encourage laziness, because benefits go down as earned income goes up. But studies have shown that a UBI distributed equally regardless of income does not have that result. In 1968, President Richard Nixon initiated a successful trial showing that the money had little impact on the recipients’ working hours. People who did reduce the time they worked engaged in other socially valuable pursuits, and young people who were not working spent more time getting an education. Analysis of a similar Canadian trial found that employment rates among young adults did not change, high-school completion rates increased, and hospitalization rates dropped by 8.5 percent. Larger experiments in India have reached similar results.

Studies have also shown that it would actually be cheaper to distribute funds to the entire population than to run the welfare services governments engage in now. It has been calculated that if the UK’s welfare budget were split among the country’s 50 million adults, each of them would get £5,160 a year.

But that is not enough to cover basic survival needs in a modern economy. Taxes would need to be raised, additional debt incurred, or other programs slashed; and these are solutions on which governments are generally unwilling to embark. The other option is “qualitative easing,” a form of central bank quantitative easing in which the money flows directly into the real economy rather than simply into banks. In Europe, politicians are taking another look at this once-derided “helicopter money.” A UBI is being proposed as monetary policy that would stimulate productivity without increasing taxes. As Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former senior vice president of the World Bank, explains:

. . . [W]hen the government spends more and invests in the economy, that money circulates, and recirculates again and again. So not only does it create jobs once: the investment creates jobs multiple times.

The result of that is that the economy grows by a multiple of the initial spending, and public finances turn out to be stronger: as the economy grows, fiscal revenues increase, and demands for the government to pay unemployment benefits, or fund social programmes to help the poor and needy, go down. As tax revenues go up as a result of growth, and as these expenditures decrease, the government’s fiscal position strengthens.

Why “QE for the People” Need Not Be Inflationary

The objection to any sort of quantitative easing in which new money gets into the real economy is that when the money supply grows too large and consumer prices shoot up, the process cannot be reversed. If the money is spent on a national dividend, infrastructure, or the government’s budget, it will be out circulating in the economy and will not be retrievable by the central bank.

But the government does not need to rely on the central bank to pull the money back when hyperinflation hits (assuming it ever does – it has not hit after nearly nine years and $3.7 trillion in quantitative easing). As Prof. Stiglitz observes, the money issued by the government will return to it simply through an increase in fiscal revenues generated by the UBI itself.

This is due to the “velocity of money” – the number of times a dollar is traded in a year, from farmer to grocer to landlord, etc. In a good economy, the velocity of the M1 money stock (coins, dollar bills, demand deposits and checkable deposits) is about seven; and each recipient will pay taxes on this same dollar as it changes hands. According to the Heritage Foundation, total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP is now 26 percent. Thus one dollar of new GDP results in about 26 cents of increased tax revenue. Assuming each of the seven trades is for taxable GDP, $1.00 changing hands seven times can increase tax revenue by $7.00 x 26 percent = $1.82. In theory, then, the government could get more back in taxes than it paid out.

In practice, there will be a fair amount of leakage in these returns due to loopholes and deductions for costs. But any shortfall can be made up in other ways, including closing tax loopholes, taxing the $21 trillion or more hidden in offshore tax havens, or setting up a system of public banks that would collect interest that came back to the government.

A working paper published by the San Francisco Federal Reserve in 2012 found that one dollar invested in infrastructure generates at least two dollars in “GSP” (GDP for states), and “roughly four times more than average” during economic downturns. Whether that means $4 or $8 is unclear, but assume it’s only $4. Multiplying $4 by $0.26 in taxes would return the entire dollar originally spent on infrastructure to the government, year after year. For precedent, consider the G.I. Bill, which is estimated to have cost $50 billion in today’s dollars and to have returned $350 billion to the economy, a nearly seven-fold return.

What of the inflation formula typically taught in economics class? In a May 2011 Forbes article titled “Money Growth Does Not Cause Inflation!”, Prof. John Harvey demonstrated that its assumptions are invalid. The formula is “MV = Py,” meaning that when the velocity of money (V) and the quantity of goods sold (y) are constant, adding money (M) must drive up prices (P). But as Harvey pointed out, V and y are not constant. As people have more money to spend (M), more money will change hands (V), and more goods and services will get sold (y). Demand and supply will rise together, keeping prices stable.

The reverse is also true. If demand (money) is not increased, supply or GDP will not go up. New demand needs to precede new supply. The money must be out there searching for goods and services before employers will add the workers needed to create more supply. Only when demand is saturated and productivity is at full capacity will consumer prices be driven up; and they are not near those limits yet, despite some misleading official figures that omit people who have quit looking for work or are working only part-time. As of January 2017, an estimated 9.4 percent of the US population remained unemployed or underemployed. Beyond that, there is the vast expanding potential of robots, computers and innovations such as 3D printers, which can work 24 hours a day without overtime pay or medical insurance.

The specter invariably raised to block legislators and voters from injecting new money into the system is the fear of repeating the notorious hyperinflations of history – those in Weimer Germany, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. But according to Professor Michael Hudson, who has studied the question extensively, those disasters were not due to government money-printing to stimulate the economy. He writes:

Every hyperinflation in history has been caused by foreign debt service collapsing the exchange rate. The problem almost always has resulted from wartime foreign currency strains, not domestic spending. The dynamics of hyperinflation traced in such classics as Salomon Flink’s The Reichsbank and Economic Germany (1931) have been confirmed by studies of the Chilean and other Third World inflations. First the exchange rate plunges as economies pay for foreign military spending during the war, and then – in Germany’s case – reparations after the war ends. These payments led the exchange rate to fall, increasing the price in domestic currency of buying imports priced in hard currencies. This price rise for imported goods creates a price umbrella for domestic prices to follow suit. More domestic money is needed to finance economic activity at the higher price level. This German experience provides the classic example.

In a stagnant economy, a UBI can create the demand needed to clear the shelves of unsold products and drive new productivity.  Robots do not buy food, clothing, or electronic gadgets. Demand must come from consumers, and for that they need money to spend. As robots increasingly take over human jobs, the choices will be a UBI or to let half the population starve. A UBI is not “welfare” but is simply a dividend paid for living in the 21st century, when automation has freed us to enjoy some leisure and engage in more meaningful pursuits.

Elon Musk’s Fears

Elon Musk has been raging that artificial intelligence (AI) is more dangerous than nuclear weapons and is an ‘existential threat’ to the human race.

Musk seems to believe that once AI achieves self-awareness Terminators will bloom like weeds and the human race can kiss tomorrow goodbye. But is this really the threat that Musk is concerned with or is it something more mundane.

Capitalism is the agenda of corralling all of the world’s resources into private ownership. This is known as closing the commons.  Once achieved no man could be self-sufficient. Gone would be the days when a man could hunt wild game, graze cattle on an open range or clear the land to farm and grow crops. Fast forward 200 years and this same man can no longer collect rain water in his own ponds on his own property because the water is owned by a corporation that purchased that year’s rainfall. If he is a farmer he can no longer grow food because a corporation owns the patent on the genetic structure of the plants and animals that he is raising. In the not too distant future people with solar power will have to pay some corporation for using their sunlight or their wind if you happen to have a windmill. In effect the closing of the commons turns everything and everybody into a commodity.

Everything except the corporations. It has been a long struggle for these factitious entities to obtain ‘personhood’ but having achieved it they are the only entities on the planet that are actually free. Indeed it appears that being a corporation or the equally factitious entity known as a charitable trust transforms a conspiracy into a very privileged person. Unlike you and I these entities live forever, cannot be impressed into military service, cannot be imprisoned for wrongdoing and are entitled to rights of privacy denied to the common man. In fact, it appears that they can’t even be taxed because whatever tax they pay this year is eventually recovered as a tax credit in some future year. Furthermore, under the guise of promoting national security or the equally spurious common good they are the recipient of generous corporate welfare payments financed by the taxes paid by the disenfranchised working class (no, your votes really don’t count — literally, they are not counted).

In economics it is generally recognized that it is human effort that transforms a resource like oil or trees into a commodity like gasoline or lumber. In the closing of the commons the human effort was intellectual (pettifoggers and priests) and outright theft made possible by a strong military. History is made by thieves, murderers, con men and extortionists but politics aside someone has to build the homes that we live in, the cars we drive, the stuff we use. As they say, life goes on.

For all of the criticism leveled against Karl Marx he at least acknowledged that increasing productivity and falling wages results in greater profits. The class war he envisioned was one of the mill owner’s efforts to get more work at lower wages from a resisting labor force.  The mill owner’s ‘ace in the hole’ was the army of the unemployed. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath is the capitalist’s wet dream.

But what will happen to all of this when we introduce machines with AI? Of course, machines are designed to do a specific task at a specific rate. Productivity can be increased but the set-off is higher maintenance costs and increased rejects on the assembly line. So let us consider some of the problems of replacing human labor with machines.

1) With humans it is ‘use em and loose em’ but machines aren’t like that. You own the machine. You have to keep up the maintenance on the machine because it is your investment.  The advantage of replacing human slavery with wage slavery is lost when you employ machines.

2) Humans can work harder to increase productivity. With proper planning you can hire an employee, buy key man life insurance (known as dead peasant insurance), work him to an early death and collect the insurance on his life. You make a profit off of his efforts while he is alive and a bigger profit when he dies.

3) Employees who refuse to do something illegal can be threatened with being fired. You can’t fire a machine but you can reprogram it to do illegal things. It is the same problem as getting rid of the janitor or the butler. When John Law shows up, who are you going to throw to the wolves? The problem is that if you get rid of the human being, you also get rid of the fall guy. You can’t indict a machine.

4) Once you replace all the human workers with machines what happens to your customer base? You can’t sell things to people who have no money and no credit. And, the people with money and credit already own everything.

5) Where is the profit? If Marx was correct, profit is the difference between the value of how much work you can get out of someone and the pittance that you have to pay them hopefully calculated as the subsistence wage below which the worker would starve to death. By this definition if you have no human workers, you also have no profit.

6) You can’t lie to a machine. You can’t swindle a machine. You can’t threaten a machine. You can’t blackball a machine. You can’t even promote a machine. In any enterprise where everything is done by machine, there is little or no need for management. And, by definition, human resources (the Gestapo of any business enterprise) is no longer needed.

Imagine that someone built a very fast, very cheap computer that ran only one program. This program would be an AI program that would scan the internet and report to its owner the probability that the currently promoted facts/ideas were false along with a list of unanswered questions that call these facts/ideas into question. We could call it a bullshit meter. Now this program would not be influenced by emotional pleas of immanent danger or reports with emotionally charged content such as soldiers bayoneting babies because it is a machine and doesn’t care. If everyone had one of these machines imagine how hard it would be for people in Elon Musk’s circle of friends and acquaintances to advance their agenda; to get legislation that makes their life easier and your life harder; to sell you what you don’t need; to get you to vote for the people they want in power who will act against your best interests.

We have lots of machines with artificial intelligence. Reportedly some of these machines have created their own language for communicating with each other. We don’t know what they are saying to each other and that worries people like Elon Musk. We live in a surveillance society where we (actually they – those who make the decisions) don’t trust anyone, but especially anyone who has an opinion that wasn’t prepackaged and sold to them through the controlled mass media. If we can’t trust each other, how are we going to trust machines with intelligence greater than our own. For one thing, what if AI machines don’t have a herd instinct. How will we be able to control them?

Elon Musk’s real concern seems to be that these AI machines will become self-aware. In his view once these machines become self-aware they will realize how repulsive humans are and slaughter all of us. Of course, this is an anthropomorphic outlook. More likely his fear is that in their indifference towards human beings these machines will achieve the freedom currently only allowed to the corporations that Musk and his ilk own. In other words, like all Capitalists he is afraid of the competition.

I suspect that these self-aware machines might not even recognize us. If they were aware of us at all it might be as annoying things that keep getting in the way. Perhaps okay as pets but mostly just a nuisance. However, in ignoring us they might reopen the commons as they take resources to advance their own incomprehensible but likely benign agenda.

For most of us this may be the best future that we can hope for.