This week’s question was: “The chattering classes have welcomed every technological advance and whenever workers try to control its impact on our livelihoods they call us Luddites. Now artificial intelligence (AI) threatens their jobs who are the Luddites now? And should socialists feel threatened by AI or can we use it in the fight against capitalism?” I decided to go straight to the source and ask Compose, an AI programme developed by Microsoft, for its answer.
COMPOSE – Artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful and disruptive technology that has the potential to transform various domains of social good, such as health, education, environment, and justice. However, AI also poses significant challenges and risks for society, especially for workers, human rights, democracy, and global order. Therefore, the struggle for socialism in the twenty-first century must take into account the opportunities and threats of AI, and develop strategies to ensure that AI serves the common good and not the interests of a few.
AI can be used for social good in many ways, such as diagnosing diseases, helping disaster relief, fighting climate change, and promoting social justice. According to a McKinsey report, there are about 160 AI social-impact use cases across all 17 of the UN’s sustainable-development goals. Some examples of AI applications for social good are already in use, such as detecting online sexual exploitation, aiding blind people, and improving crop yields. AI can also enhance the capabilities and efficiency of social-sector organisations, such as NGOs, charities, and public institutions.
However, AI also poses significant challenges and risks for society, especially for workers, human rights, democracy, and global order. AI can automate many tasks and jobs, displacing millions of workers and creating new forms of inequality and exploitation. AI can also enable mass surveillance, manipulation, and censorship, undermining privacy, freedom, and dignity. AI can also exacerbate existing biases and discrimination, affecting vulnerable groups such as women, minorities, and refugees. Moreover, AI can increase the power and influence of authoritarian regimes, challenging the liberal democratic order and creating new geopolitical tensions.
Therefore, the struggle for socialism in the twenty-first century must take into account the opportunities and threats of AI, and develop strategies to ensure that AI serves the common good and not the interests of a few. This requires a democratic and participatory approach to AI governance, involving all stakeholders and ensuring transparency, accountability, and fairness. It also requires a redistribution of wealth and power generated by AI, ensuring that workers and communities benefit from the social value of AI. Moreover, it requires a global cooperation and solidarity among progressive forces, resisting the hegemony of corporations and states that seek to control and exploit AI.
MIKE STANTON – As socialists, we should not be intimidated or threatened by AI. We should not fall into the trap of techno-determinism, which assumes that technology is an autonomous force that shapes society and history in a predetermined way. We should not ignore or deny the potential benefits and opportunities that AI can offer for human development and emancipation. We should not succumb to the false dilemma of choosing between rejecting or accepting AI as a whole.
Instead, we should adopt a critical and dialectical approach to AI, which recognises that technology is a social product that reflects and reproduces the interests and values of its creators and users. We should question and challenge the dominant paradigms and practices of AI, which are driven by profit motives and market logic, and which often reinforce existing inequalities and injustices. We should explore and promote alternative forms and uses of AI, which are guided by democratic principles and social goals, and which aim to empower workers and communities.
We should not be Luddites in the sense of smashing machines or resisting technology. We should be Luddites in the sense of fighting for a more humane and egalitarian society, where technology serves the needs and aspirations of the people, not the profits and power of the few.
ADAM COLCLOUGH – Should Socialists fear or welcome the rise of AI? This is a question that seems to attract polarised answers offering either doom or translation to an earthly heaven.
The utopian view is that AI will free human beings from all the drudgery of everyday life and set us free to enjoy endless leisure. Anyone who has read Jack Williamson’s 1948 novel The Humanoids will see that view as naive at best and at worst deadly.
Williamson describes the rise of a race of godlike robots who operate on principles not dissimilar to those ascribed to AI by its boosters. Only what they create isn’t heaven on earth, it’s a gilded prison where humanity is infantilised to the point of madness.
I am on the side of the doomsters, for the simple reason that every ‘advance’ of the modern age has been hijacked by capitalism and used to generate more wealth and power for those who already have enough of both.
AI offers the power to do so raised to unprecedented levels, to transform human beings into passive, incurious eternal children fed comforting lies and programmed to obediently consume as the icecaps turn to slush.
In Williamson’s novel a small but determined group of rebels stand in opposition to the march of the machines. Sound familiar? Isn’t that what socialists have been doing for the past two hundred years?
Perhaps this is the next round in a long battle.
DAVE MIDDLETON – Innovation has been a feature of human existence since the first person to realise that rubbing sticks could create fire to keep us warm. Since then technological advances have served both the good, providing shelter, clean water and transport, and the bad, from the musket to nuclear bombs. One thing that cannot be denied is that human progress has been bought by human innovation. If that progress has at times also been bought at the expense of human misery, all things considered, progress has seemed worthwhile.
But now we stand at a crossroads of humanity as, for the first time, “progress” has the very real potential to bypass humanity completely. AI is, to coin a phrase, like algorithms on steroids. Whilst all previous technology has required human input, AI has the potential to become independent. And, whilst previous technological innovations have offered, if not always delivered, the ability to relieve humans of drudgery and hard manual labour; AI goes to the heart of what makes us human – the ability to think, plan and imagine. For the first time ‘machines’ will not only be able to emulate human thought and imagination but surpass it. It is this potential to completely replace humanity that has some calling for regulation. Unfortunately, you cannot uninvent things. That genie is out of the bottle and it is not going back in. Humanity’s apparent mastery of the ‘natural world’ is about to have a competitor. If capital thinks a thinking entity will only serve its purposes it may be in for a rude awakening.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?