After watching a video by CGP Grey, called ‘Humans need not apply’, it became apparent to me that the technological development of robots, computers, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) link in aptly with the political philosophy of Karl Marx. And, being a politics student, I couldn’t help but write up on how they interlink. Before I begin this, it would be useful to watch the CGP Grey video on the link below:
Essentially, CGP Grey talks of how computers and robots with artificial intelligence will out-compete humans in every single area of employment in the next few decades. You may argue this point, positing that we will always find new work for humans, and robots will just make our lives easier, so why worry? Well, quite simply, that is not the case. Take the example of horses, an example CGP Grey uses superbly. Horses were the chief mode of transport on land for centuries. Then arrived the train, then the car, and so on. At the beginning the horses thought (for the purpose of this argument lets imagine they can think this complexly) that this new technology would make their lives easier. In addition to this the horses also assumed that there would be new jobs in the future that they simply could not fathom at that moment. Technology, such as the train and car, would bring more people to the city, so this must create more employment for the horses? With a little hindsight – if you pardon the pun – it is easy to see how wrong these horses are. Yet jump forward one hundred years to today and people use the same argument with humans. People argue that our lives will become easier and the new technology will create new, currently impossible to comprehend, forms of employment. This is not the case, unfortunately.
Before you read these next two paragraphs, I must give credit to a close friend of mine who helped me through the computer science I needed to understand in order to write such paragraphs! According to Moore’s Law, the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since their invention. Although there is a widely-held belief that Moore’s Law will come to an end soon, it does not detract from the fact that computer processing power is more than likely to continue to increase, albeit not in the traditional way Moore’s Law postulates. There is the current development of ‘quantum computers’, for example, though our current inability to make observations at the quantum level makes proving such computers’ existence currently impossible. The premise of Moore’s Law still holds strong, however. Even if transistors have almost reached their full potential, unable to get any smaller, newer technologies, like the aforementioned quantum computer, are likely to continue the development transistors have begun. This is likely to continue at a rate at which humans cannot keep up with.
Whether computer power will continue to grow at this same exponential rate or slower is the subject of much debate, but Bostrom, in his famous ‘Superintelligence’, says that computers will be more intelligent than us in the next few years, maybe the next few decades. So the chances of them taking all current forms of employment is likely to occur several years before this point. Evolution takes several hundred millennia, not several years! With computer processing power potentially exponentially on the rise, humans will simply be unable to keep up. And once AI becomes better and more intelligent, the computers will be able to better themselves, again fastening the speed of technological progress. Computers already troubleshoot and better themselves, but their ability to do this will only continue, at an astonishing rate. Robots and computers with highly sophisticated AI will have taken almost every point of employment in the near future, which leads me to ask the question: ‘Where will this leave humans?’
This is where the philosophy of Karl Marx links in with what has been mentioned above. Karl Marx was a staunch opponent of capitalism, yet the fruits of capitalism, and the technological advancements they have produced, may be a perfect means to enable his ideological utopia to come into existence. The fruits of capitalism in the form of funding from Engels’ factories enabled Marx to publish his theories, and the fruits of capitalism in the form of AI may enable his theories to become a reality. If you don’t know much about the thoughts of Marx, take a few minutes to watch this video by The School of Life, a fantastic YouTube channel I recommend you subscribe to.
Marx hated how the work which most of us perform now is alienating. This can also be expressed as entfremdung (alienation of the self) in German. We are now but cogs in a machine, leaving many of us questioning our purpose in life, when the majority of the time we are working in highly specialised areas, without a broader picture which enables us to see our achievements. Whereas before we may have assembled a whole mobile phone or computer by hand, now we may just add the core processor, or paint the exterior. Computers and machines will be able to replace this alienating and depressing work entirely, leaving us as at liberty to search for answers to the bigger questions, and giving us the leisure to pursue the pleasures in life we have always wanted to, but not been able to.
Marx argues that the worker, or proletariat, is exploited for profit by the CEO, Chair, or Boss of a company. With computers, automation and AI taking over such tasks, the problem surrounding the exploitative nature of capitalist employment will all but disappear. That is until AI becomes sophisticated enough to have a consciousness on a similar level to that of humans, then the question of whether or not we are exploiting robots and computers will become a moral dilemma in the way the dilemma of exploiting humans currently is.
The capitalist world views unemployment in a highly negative way, always approaching the word with a pejorative tone. But with the development of AI, unemployment will only continue to rise. Take the example of driverless cars. They are in constant development, with billions of US dollars invested in them worldwide each year. They will take over the world of transportation and the industry, there is no doubt about that. Taxi drivers tried and failed to fight Uber, they have no chance against driverless cars. Driverless cars will be safer, more efficient, cheaper, and without end. A driverless lorry could drive non-stop, saving thousands of dollars per journey just on time efficiency.. This is because a human lorry driver is legally required to stop every two hours. The transportation industry is – according to CGP Grey – estimated to employ 70 million people worldwide. All these jobs will be lost, at no fault of anyone.
It will be, therefore, wrong to view these unemployed in a derogatory fashion, the way that capitalist societies currently portray the unemployed. Instead, with the fact that the rate of unemployment will grow and grow in the coming future, we should look at unemployment in the much more positive, communist way. If you are unemployed then you are free, not at the whim of an exploitative boss, or being used as a commodity for capital gain. Unemployment gives you an opportunity to live a life of leisure. This, according to Marx and communist ideology, should not be a sin, but a benevolent consequence of the technological developments which we have made. AI will aid with this ability to live a life of pleasurable leisure, making life easy at next to no cost.
All in all, AI, automated processes, computers and robots will make the implementation of a communist utopia viable, and in many ways necessary. Vast swaths of the population will become unemployable, at no fault of their own. We won’t need to work, will be able to live comfortable lives at a low cost, and will live in a world where – as CGP says – ‘Humans need not apply’. Should technology companies be flying the communist flag now, then? These companies and the technological advancements they spearhead will probably be the most significant cause ever for a shake-up of the current market-based capitalist system, so perhaps these companies should be flying such flags! Or perhaps instead the hammer and the sickle of communism should be replaced with a robot and a computer, as these technologies could make a communist utopia a capitalist-world necessity.