Mind Matters News and Analysis on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Is AI Creating the Conditions for Marxist Revolution?

An analyst looks at the conditions then and now
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Last summer, we noted Karl Marx’s eerie AI prediction; Marx (1818-1883) felt that capitalism would fail when machines replaced human labor. Today’s market economy doesn’t seem in a hurry to fulfill either prediction; nonetheless, some see artificial intelligence as enabling a comeback of his theories.

Three arguments that AI analyst Tim Gordon of Best Practice.ai has heard are

1) AI-driven concentration of economic power accompanied by the desperation of the jobless could spark a revolution against “a capital-owning techno-elite”;

2) State-controlled algorithms might outstrip market discipline in producing a better lifestyle for workers; and

3) The total surveillance that AI offers would secure permanent One-Party rule

From long experience in the social milieu of AI, he offers some responses, for example, to
the claims about the coming wave of desperate joblessness:

However, economists refer to the “lump of labour fallacy” — the idea that the stock of jobs is fixed and immutable. Even if much of the current hype comes good (quite an assumption given the realities of deploying current state technology) all historic precedent suggests that mankind will discover new jobs that urgently need doing — even as those that have been replaced by automation fade away.

The nirvana of surplus production over-taking our needs is a scenario that repeated historic great leaps forward in economic productivity have yet to actually deliver in reality. Somehow the mooted explosion of leisure time that automation is supposed to deliver never materialises. The labour-saving devices of the 1950s — the automation of many aspects of domestic cleaning — had a hugely liberating impact on human (especially female) lives but hardly represented the end of work. Tim Gordon, “Back from the grave: can AI resuscitate Karl Marx?” at Good Audience

Tim Gordon

He also points out that the Chinese Communist Party’s consumer-friendly, “to be rich is glorious” Marxism is not one Marx would have found appealing. In fact, “China vies with the US in both its number of billionaires and its level of income disparity as measured by the Gini co-efficient.”

As for Big Brother AI, Gordon argues that “this struggle is just beginning”; human rights violations significantly undermined the Soviet system, after all. Perhaps, as a general rule, if a population becomes better off, it may also become better educated and, consequently, more resentful of petty, pompous, and power-mad bureaucrats.

Gordon’s article came out before the recent Amazon strike but so far, despite Amazon’s deep involvement in AI, it is shaping up as a traditional labor-management showdown:

This is not the first time Amazon has asked police to intervene in Amazon warehouse protests in Spain, El Confidencial notes. When workers went on strike on Prime Day in July, Amazon asked police to guarantee workers access across the picket line and to trucks carrying merchandise. The strikes in July resulted in clashes with police, including some arrests.Isobel Asher Hamilton and Ruqayyah Moynihan, “Amazon reportedly left police in Spain ‘dumbfounded’ by asking them to intervene in a mass warehouse strike and patrol worker productivity” at Business Insider

And it features some traditional reasons for desperation too:

It is far from the first time reports have emerged of poor working conditions at Amazon.

British journalist James Bloodworth went undercover at a fulfilment center and told Business Insider that the atmosphere was like a “prison.” He said he came across a bottle of urine because workers were under such pressure to meet targets, they would pee in bottles to save time. Isobel Asher Hamilton, “‘They treat us like disposable parts’: An Amazon warehouse worker is waging war on working conditions in a new anonymous newspaper column” at Business Insider

But few people today think that a violent social revolution is needed to resolve these kinds of issues. No one will die due to a work stoppage, if they don’t get their Luvabella Baby Doll or Organic Mushroom Farm on CyberMonday.

On the bright side for Marx, if he did come back, he could at least visit the Alan Turing Institute at the British Museum.

See also: Karl Marx’s eerie AI prediction He felt that capitalism would fall when machines replaced human labor

and

George Gilder Explains What’s Wrong with “Google Marxism” In discussion with Mark Levin, host of Life, Liberty & Levin