Will AI Spell the End of Capitalism?

Will AI Spell the End of Capitalism? By Michael Bennett.

The most sinister aspect of current AI is what a one-party state can do with it. Silicon Valley has given China the technical tools to set up the world of 1984. Now the party telescreen can monitor the likes of Winston Smith 24/7. Instead of a screen on the wall, it’s the mobile phone in your pocket connected to the Internet that can be used to track you and monitor what you click on, who and what you message, and keep you and all your fellow citizens under constant surveillance for “counter-revolutionary” views. In China, the Internet and social media have evolved to be a tyrant’s dream. Comrade political officers in technology firms monitor online posts for “objectionable” material and have unlimited powers of “moderation.”

The Achilles heel of this political strategy is that it creates a culture in which people are afraid to think and speak freely. When you have to filter every word you say in case it offends the powers that be, you are strongly motivated to avoid risky creative thinking. In a society where the state can control everything and purge celebrity and wealth, talented people vote with their feet and migrate to places where they can get rich and famous and say what they think. Those that remain settle for the safety of government-approved groupthink. As a result of this systemic dampening of creativity, the economy stagnates in the long run. …

Hasn’t government and bureaucracy grown a lot recently?

In the mid-19th century, when The Communist Manifesto was published, there was hardly any spending on social services. Income tax was three percent in the UK, there was no such thing as company tax, and the welfare state did not exist. What existed was the parish and the poorhouse. In the days of Gladstone and Disraeli, with property-based suffrage and a budget than went mostly on the Army, the Navy, and servicing debt incurred during the Crimean War, one could plausibly claim, as Marx and Engels did, that “the executive of the modern state was nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie.” In the 19th century, spending by the UK government was less than a 10th of GDP. Today it is a third. Half the UK budget, one-sixth of GDP, goes on health, education, and welfare.

A degree of central planning is desirable to provide infrastructure, to support basic research, and to ensure that everyone has access to education and health services. Regulation is required to enforce contracts, to facilitate cooperation, to provide minimum standards for products and services, and to enforce rules on safety, pollution, and so on. However, as an overall policy, maximising individual autonomy within reason, erring towards computational efficiency and distributed control, will yield dramatically better outcomes than central control by the AI of a one-party state.

Lefties hate feedback on how they’re doing, and competition:

Central planning ignores what is arguably the greatest advantage of distributed control and local adaptation: error correction. It also ignores the fact that “fairness” is notoriously hard to define in AI terms, assuming resources are to be fairly allocated.  …

The problem with state-run monopolies is that they are inherently inefficient because they lack the error correction provided by competition. Markets provide error correction in the form of people deciding products suck and buying elsewhere. In the realm of ideas, error correction occurs when people say a party’s policy does not work, but this option is removed when free speech is curtailed. In China, those who criticise government policy (or government officials) disappear and get silenced. …

The history of the communist world is replete with economic disaster. Millions died as a result of famines caused by Stalin and Mao. Marxist doctrine underlies the economic underperformance of China compared to Taiwan. AI cannot save Marxism, but it can be used by Marxists to serve their agendas of surveillance and social control. AI can be used to bring about the death of democracy and enable the rule of a digital Big Brother.

Forced to choose between AI oligarchs who make fortunes selling ads, regulated by elected governments that the people can replace, or a society ruled by AI platforms staffed with political officers who repress all criticism of the party line, the former is preferable.

Humanity has to choose, now. If we throw away freedom, we might never get it back.