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IEET > Security > SciTech > Rights > Life > Vision > Technoprogressivism > Contributors > Wesley Strong

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The Singularity and the Future-Human under Capitalism


Wesley Strong
Wesley Strong
Ethical Technology

Posted: Dec 10, 2012

The Technological Singularity, referred to as “the singularity” by transhumanists, signifies a point in time where self-aware self-improving artificial intelligence that could surpass the intelligence of the human brain manifests.

The Coming Singularity

The prior may seem more threatening to most, however artificial intelligence may pose a more immediate risk to humanity.

The singularity culminates a reach towards “smarter systems,” a point where advanced intelligences are able to replicate and improve on each generation quicker than humans. The singularity would be the entry into a new era of transhumanism and transhumanist development. This new intelligence can be human based, relying on improvement technologies to enhance cognition, or machine based, relying on advanced computing devices. This new intelligence would take over production of future advanced intelligences, making enhancements on each generation. Multiple unpredictable outcomes could arise from such transformation, as well as many ethical dilemmas.

Advanced intelligences could take several paths, They might annihilate humanity to eliminate threats to their superiority. They may radically transform social systems on the basis of equity and democracy. They may just sit around making lolcats memes. They could do an unending number of things. It is unpredictable given that we have no experience with advanced, self-replicating intelligences other than our own. This unpredictability can be incredibly dangerous in a world of mechanized nuclear weapons, epidemic diseases held back by computerized security systems, and almost exhaustive Internet access, specifically in industrial and post-industrial capitalist nations.

Capitalism and Singularitarianism

Power determines the distribution and use of technology. The ethics of a technology are dependent upon its use, largely determined by powered classes. Social, political, and economic structures define the relationship between humanity and technology. Corporations, states, and the powered classes control the flow of commodities in a capitalist society. Profit is the first motive of capitalism. Advanced intelligences are likely to be used to forward the search for profit under capitalism, expanding exploitation and oppression.

Human-improving technologies, guided by the capitalist ethics of profit, could be used to speed up production in jobs that must be filled by humans, mechanizing the production line to a greater extent. This would further separate producers from the fruits of their labor and alienate humanity from itself and its value even more. We could be programmed – and I mean this in the literal sense – to accept oppression and believe it as standard.

Some Transhumanists seem very interested in using transhuman technology to improve profit lines. Peter Thiel is a sponsor of the Singularity Institute, one of the major singularitarian organizations. Theil made millions as co-founder and CEO of PayPal and now spends his time managing hedge funds and financially supporting singularitarian and transhumanist causes. Thiel was recently in the news for funding Blueseed – a company that aims to bring workers into international waters where they are not bound to workers' rights laws and can ignore influences by local populations as well as state and federal governments.i

Theil supports other “seasteading” projects similar to this, with the hopes of establishing a libertarian paradise, inspired by his objectivist idol Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged. Seemingly positive promises of lower cost living hide the reality of the workers who will run the infrastructure of such projects and the massive exploitation and oppression they will face without any protections.ii

Faulty Assumptions

Assuming the singularity will inevitably change humanity for the better is ignorant and arrogant at best. Singularitarians must be blind to history if their sole focus is to expedite the singularity. Large cataclysmic events occurred throughout history from pre-history to the so-called “civilized” era. There are positive and negative effects of each event, the value determination often dependent on the subjective view of the observer in that time. The advent of capitalism in Europe presents an excellent example.

Capitalism had positive benefits over feudal systems. Capitalist republics brought a greater access to influence power through democratic rights, even though they are moderated and controlled by the bourgeois state. Working people went from being voiceless serfs to attaining some albeit small voices in the democratic process, unless you were female, unpropertied, or a slave/indentured – which still hold true today. Overall, serfs became workers and together they could and do have a collective voice that would not have flourished under the absolute monarchs of feudalism. Together they had and have a power to affect the political positions of the bourgeois state, something unheard of under feudal rule.

The rise of capitalism had negative impacts as well. The rise of capitalism sparked a massive urbanization that continues in burgeoning markets to this day. The factory and production line model of capitalism puts hundreds if not thousands of workers at risk under oppressive conditions. The factory fires in Bangladeshiii and the worker suicides at FoxConn plants in Chinaiv are certainly not a new phenomenon under capitalism and exemplify my point quite well.

The singularity is likely to have similar dichotomous or multichotomous – good, bad, and otherwise - effects on society should it occur as predicted. Singularitarians believe that there can be “perfect conditions” under which the singularity will benefit all of humanity. Such an assumption is based more on their point of view than any historical reality. The oppressed bourgeois in Europe saw the advent of capitalism as beneficial to all of humanity. Singularitarians see the singularity in the same light. They are both subjective assumptions based on the desires and wills of these collective groups and nothing more.

This fanaticism, this arrogance and ignorance of history and the faults of making grandiose assumptions about the future based on a limited and subjectively marginal reality is tantamount to religious proclamations of impending rapture and has similar effects on its followers. The void of self-criticism and lack of understanding the political realities will put the empowered classes at an advantage to capitalize – quite literally – on a possibly world changing event. Singularitarians apotheosize an historical event which may or may not do any good for the majority of humanity, and in doing so may actually make us less prepared to deal with such an event, putting marginalized populations at greater risk of exploitation and oppression.

Artificial intelligences cannot dismantle systems of power through mere existence as their material form can easily be dismantled or destroyed, human or otherwise. It should be no surprise that capitalists like Peter Theil find the singularity desirable as they are likely to profit off such a transformation, to the detriment of most of humanity, workers, and the poor.

Science and technology does not inherently progress towards one point of revelation, bringing the argument behind the inevitability of the singularity into question. It is often a battle between paradigms and models, often swayed by powered interests and structures, and entirely encapsulated within social structures, well illustrated in the works of Thomas Kuhn.v Capitalism is in a serious point of crisis with massive austerity and impending ecological collapse. Drastic impacts on economic markets are likely to affect scientific advancement. Popular movements may also have an impact on the use of technology in society as well as the macro-level ethical principles that guide human interaction with technology.

I am become Death.

The technology we are devising today can be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Human-improving technologies can also be used as human-controlling technologies. Humanity can be condemned to millennia of techno-slavery under the iron fist of ruling-class technocrats, without awareness of our collective power. We can live on for centuries, maybe forever, but will be devoid of our humanity as long as we are alienated from the fruit of our productive and creative means. We will be alienated from ourselves and each other.

The historical arrogance of singularitarians, the objectivist libertarianism of capitalists like Peter Theil, and the crisis state of mainstream capitalism may combine to form a perfect storm, conceive the singularity, and maintain systems of oppression while numbing working people to their own plight. Theil would likely welcome this outcome. Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near, promotes a more ethical approach to the possible singularity. Kurzweil takes the time to at least recognize the downside of such technologies, the risks posed by the singularity, and the ethical dilemma we are situated in.vi Advanced intelligences can be incredibly beneficial, but they do not exist in a bubble, they are prone to social, political, and economic forces.

We can look to the future with understanding eyes, seeing both our history, present, and future together. Futurism and Transhumanism is about a greater understanding of our history, society, and future possibilities. We can't ignore historical oppression and inequities. We need to develop better methods of understanding the ethics behind advanced technologies and be willing to challenge power structures that seek to use them for oppressive means.

Capitalism will influence every major social event as long as it is the dominant social form. The singularity is not immune to this. No intelligence can out-think the destructive military power of the state. Singularitarians are selling snake oil, just in a shinier container with more free gadgets. The singularity, and advanced intelligences, will not and cannot be a panacea for the systemic oppression and exploitation inherent in capitalism, and as such will never benefit all of humanity.

References

i http://techli.com/2011/11/bluseed-silicon-valley-on-a-boat/

ii http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/18/peter-thiel-seasteading_n_930595.html

iii http://news.yahoo.com/112-killed-fire-bangladesh-garment-060756696.html

ivhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/16/foxconn-suicide-china-society

vhttp://turkpsikiyatri.org/arsiv/kuhn-ssr-2nded.pdf

vihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uIzS1uCOcE


Wesley Strong studied sociology at Central Connecticut State University, where he graduated from in 2008 with honors. Wes was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award for Excellence in Public Discourse.
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COMMENTS


If science fiction can be used to build imaginaries, then the Culture, as imagined by Iain M. Banks, may serve as an alternative model. See also:
“Artificial intelligences and political organization: an exploration based on the science fiction work of Iain M. Banks”, Technology in Society, Volume 34, Issue 1, 2012, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160791X11000728
(Free older version available at: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/rumpalaepaper.pdf )





As I have had occasion to point out on many times before:

The quite natural anthropocentric mindsets of those of of the transhumanist cult leave them with vague woolly notions that the advancement of technology is something over which we humans have significant control.

But this is putting the cart before the horse! The reality being that it is, in its broader aspects, an autonomous evolutionary process.

Indeed, it appears that most of us seem to fail to notice we are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps, and many other trappings of the increasingly cloudy net and the ever-growing insidious reticulation to peripheral devices.

We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we have fondly perceived to be a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

It may be humiliating to have to admit that our species, far from being potential “masters of the universe” or the “pinnacle of biology”, is simply a tiny cog in the humongous machinery of nature. But, viewed objectively, that is quite clearly the way it is.

And that our only claim to distinction is that our collective imagination is the medium in which technology has autonomously evolved in the course of the past 2.5 million years.

Furthermore, that, within decades, we can reasonably expect to become redundant to that process.

The construction of a “brain” that will soon equal and then surpass that typical of our species has for long been a work in progress. Not as a result of any deliberate human “design” but rather as the result of an autonomous evolutionary process that can be seen to have run its exponential course since humankind acquired the ability to share imagination, an ability which we know as language.

Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet.

It is effectively evolving, in the tradition of biology, by a process of self-assembly.

The broader evolutionary model which supports this is outlined, very informally, in “The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?” , a free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website.





As John Horgan said Singularitarianism is almost a type of religion at this point. “God in a box” etc is not scary to me, but the people who worship it do. Whether it be a “posthuman” or “techno-singularity” I would hope that it is smart enough to not just tell us how to live longer lives, but most importantly help us integrate with it to enhance ourselves, our moral theories, politics, and the way the world is run to increase education, prosperity, health, happiness, etc. But what else would we expect from a god? I don’t know exactly what to make of the “technological singularity” as it is understood today, but I would hope no one dies and that intelligence does indeed equal moral enhancement as well. (which would probably mean the destruction of the social-Darwinian like workings of capitalism)





Technological advancement is certainly an active choice made by humans, if not all, then by some. the empowered ruling classes decide what technologies to invest in. This is not a collective decision of the class, however, the general ideology of such classes determines the nature of such investments. Financial interest in artificial intelligence seems to be focused on its possible military uses. Technology has social implications and attachments, it is not some separate “evolutionary” trend and is not always subject to anything similar to natural selection. Most modern digital technology has its roots in industrial uses well before it becomes a consumer good, often in a different form. These are active decisions by certain classes and advanced intelligence will be under the same social power controls that we face. It’s not inherently going to cause a drastic change just by existing. Technology does not “evolve”. There are VERY distinct differences between evolution and the development of technologies.





Peter Thiel may indeed be pursuing his “own” objectivist ideal? He may even be suffering delusions of aspiring to be Galt himself? Yet who is he really convincing? I do not believe that folks, the proletariat are so dumb to blindly follow demi-gods? I would have more faith in Humans and social democracy?

If Humanity is merely a cog in the evolutionary machinations of the Cosmos, then so be it? It is inevitable that Humans will create/inspire advanced machine intelligence, this IS purpose and direction? What is there to fear from the rational mind/machine?

Again, if one drills beyond the flawed pretence of Ayn Rand, and understands the existential philosophy concerning personal fulfillment/rational self interest which she blatantly professes as Self-ishness, (it is not!), then you will understand that no one should forfeit their lives/happiness to another? Very Libertarian/democratic?

The Objectivist flaw? All knowledge is supported on the shoulders of giants, no man is an Island?





I think to speculate on the motives of strong AI’s if we do not directly program them are meaningless, it’s like asking a dolphin about chimpanzee culture.

Capitalism will effectively be overthrown when out tech becomes self replicating and able to effect replicator type function, so we become a post-scarcity culture.

At that advanced level though, it’s just a guessing game as to what will constitute social and monetary currency.





In fact, let’s highlight your previous article here also..

My previous comment above, (middle paragraph), is also hinting beyond Marxism and at Hegel, (idolized by Marx and Engels), and more holistically and historically at the “world spirit” as embracing the benefit and evolution of Humanity as a whole, and perhaps even more importantly the evolution of the “world”, (all species), as purposeful and directive, and.. unstoppable?

This is a more favoured utilitarian position for me, and this is always at tension with the value and worth and happiness of the individual, (objectivism), yet also incorporates my views and understanding of spiritual and social “Unity” and the strength of diverse individuals bonding to form understanding and cooperation, (much stronger and enduring that authoritarian and enforced unity?)

 





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