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Technology as an Excuse for Domination: The AI Nanny September 6, 2011

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Evo psych, Primitivism, Technology, The Singularity, Transhumanism.
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Ben Goertzel moves closer to the Friendly AI folks in this IEET piece where ey explores the desirably of creating an artificial intelligence to watch over the species. The proposal connects with Nick Bostrom’s concept of a singleton and employs the same liberal arguments in favor of coercion.  Goertzel explicitly expounds eir political philosophy as follows:

A large part of my personality rebels against the whole AI Nanny approach – I’m a rebel and a nonconformist; I hate bosses and bureaucracies and anything else that restricts my freedom.  But, I’m not a political anarchist – because I have a strong suspicion that if governments were removed, the world would become a lot worse off, dominated by gangs of armed thugs imposing even less pleasant forms of control than those exercised by the US Army and the CCP and so forth.  I’m sure government could be done a lot better than any country currently does it – but I don’t doubt the need for some kind of government, given the realities of human nature.  And I think the need for an AI Nanny falls into the same broad category.  Like government, an AI Nanny is a relatively offensive thing, that is nonetheless a practical necessity due to the unsavory aspects of human nature.

We didn’t need government during the Stone Age – because there weren’t that many of us, and we didn’t have so many dangerous technologies.  But we need government now.

As always seems to happen, Goertzel cites human nature as self-evidently inimical to freedom. There’s no attempt to define human nature or show the basis for claims made about it. This serves to invest the assertion that human nature requires government with false authority. Assuming the scientific paradigm of knowledge from empirical evidence, we’re damn far away from comprehension of any human political essence. No laboratory for running controlled social experiments exists. The systems that surround us have specific historical origins and cannot plausibly represent the entirety of biological possibilities. All of us who debate politics should acknowledge the profoundly conditional status of our knowledge about what we as a species can and cannot do. You’ll find no legitimate authority here, only insight stitched together from history, psychology, literature, lived experience, neuroscience, political science, and so on.

According to Goertzel and company, anarchism worked for hunter-gathers but necessarily fails under the circumstances of technological civilization. People in dense concentrations who rely on divisions of labor to survive need bosses to make sure the farmers don’t slack off and to prevent even worse bosses from emerging. It’s a classic liberal argument, and one that primitivists accept as well. They simply draw different conclusions about how to proceed. Civilization mandates domination, liberals say, so to hell with freedom. Primitivists in turn consign civilization to that fiery abyss.

Anarchists like myself, on the other hand, reject the above opposition and suggest we create a technological mass society based on liberty and equality. I understand that modern technology comes out of the context of hierarchical social organization. I grant that the increasing individual ability to cause harm – mostly hypothetical at this point – troubles anarchist political philosophy. But I’m not remotely ready to bow down before any sky patriarch, synthetic or otherwise.

While I could imagine tolerating an AI singleton strictly limited to preventing violence, framing the issue in liberal terms and looking to a supreme authority for salvation has dangerous implications for the present. In the above quotation, for example, Goertzel dismisses the horrors of U.S. imperialism and Chinese authoritarian communism with the specter of gangs more abominable still. Fear the barbarians at the gates, not the bejeweled senator. Thus dreams of singletons deflect revolutionary ambitions and the struggle for social justice right now. The liberal analysis, particularly when combined with futurology, minimizes actually existing suffering with appeals to illusory terrors and foretold wonders. Advocating coercion and hierarchy gives support and legitimacy to the nightmarish systems of power ordering our lives on daily basis.

As an alternative to the quest for the perfect boss to watch over us, I recommend the messy process of fighting for autonomy and self-determination. Let relationships of mutual aid replace the master-servant model. Let active participation overturn top-down decision-making and knowledge production. Let cultures of cooperation and creativity blossom from the ashes of capitalist competition.  These status-quo structures stifle creativity and initiative. They crush the human spirit, grind us into the gears of the machine. We can do so much better than choosing which oppressors we prefer to lord over us. If and when Goertzel’s hypothetical cabals of techno-terrorists became a threat, we can oppose them through collective direct action consist with the culture vigilant against domination and violence.

I conclude with a passage from anarchist-feminist Voltairine de Cleyre on liberty:

Will there not be atrocious crimes? Certainly. He is a fool who says there will not be. But you can’t stop them by committing the arch-crime and setting a block between the spokes of Progress-wheels. You will never get right until you start right.

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