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Artificial Intelligence: ‘Frankenstein’ or Capitalist Money Machine
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Introduction: The Financial Times’ Special Report (2/16/2017) published a four-page spread on the ‘use and possible dangers of artificial intelligence (AI)’. Unlike the usual trash journalists who serve as Washington’s megaphones on the editorial pages and political columns, the Special Report is a thoughtful essay that raises many important issues, even as it is fundamentally flawed.

The writer, Richard Walters, cites several major problems accompanying AI from ‘public anxieties, to inequalities and job insecurity’. Walters pleads with those he calls the ‘controllers of autonomous systems’ to heed social and ‘political frictions’ or face societal ‘disruption’. Experts and journalists, discussing the long-term, large-scale destruction of the working class and service jobs, claim that AI can be ameliorated through management and social engineering.

This essay will proceed to raise fundamental issues, questions leading to an alternative approach to AI relying on class analysis. We will reject the specter of AI as a ‘Frankenstein’ by identifying the social forces, which finance, design and direct AI and which benefit from its negative social impact.

Basic Questions: Demystifying AI

The best and the worst of the experts reporting on AI assert that it is an autonomous system, devoid of any link to the class structure within which it operates. Their version of technological determinism, above and beyond the needs and demands of capitalists, has fits neatly with the corporate ideology of the trash journalists and pundits.

The fundamental questions that must be raised include: 1) ‘AI’, for whom?; 2) How are the productivity gains of AI to be distributed between capital and labor? 3) How are work time, income and pensions distributed between the owners of technology and the labor force?; and 4) What kinds of socio-economic activity does AI serve?

‘Artificial Intelligence’ and related technological innovations are financed, designed, controlled and ultimately applied by the major corporations and financial institutions in order to reduce the cost of labor and to enhance profits and competitiveness between capitalist rivals.

AI and similar capitalist technological changes, along with the overseas relocation of information technology and manufacturing production are the principal destroyers of workers’ employment and living standards in the US.

AI technology, alongside vast spending for imperial wars and military procurement, multi-billion dollar bank-bailouts and the promotion of finance-over-productive capital represent the forces driving down wages, salaries, living standards, pensions and, lately, life expectancy for the marginalized working class and rural population.

The innovators and promoters of AI, whether individuals or small groups, seek capitalist support to finance, market and ‘acquire’ their ‘discoveries’. In fact, the entire industry has been built upon large-scale, tax-funded public research centers and university laboratories, which have paid for the buildings as well as the scientists’ and professors’ salaries.


Most of IT and AI related profits are distributed among the military-industrial complex, the chemical agro-industrial monopolies and the transport and consumer goods manufacturing elites. While garbage journalists and experts cite ‘AI’s contribution to health, education and social services, they forget to clarify that these ‘innovations’ are controlled by private health corporations, private ‘charter’ schools and public sector education elites intent on increasing profits, lowering teachers’ salaries, slashing programs and undermining student learning. The dismal, fragmented and mal-distributed state of healthcare and education in the United States are never seriously discussed because they put the lie to the absurd claims made about the benefits of AI and IT for the broader population.

Far from being ‘autonomous’ and subject to abstract ‘controllers’, AI, IT and high technology serve to concentrate wealth, power and profits for multiple sectors of the ruling class who determine how such technologies will be used.

The financiers of AI and their partners direct the scientists, engineers and marketers. The garbage journalists are paid to proclaim the arrival of ‘history-making’ innovations. The media describe AI as ‘machine learning, a form of advanced pattern recognition technology to make judgments by analyzing large amounts of data (which) could supplement human thought’ (FT Special Report 2/17/2017).

Contrary to the above-mentioned assumptions, the ‘judgments’ are made by the ruling class, using parameters and metrics determined by the elite, deciding on what kinds of ‘patterns are to be recognized’ in order that they can derive the kind of information they need to enhance profits, make war, maximize killing and engineering massive layoffs of workers. In a word, class assumptions dictate AI, IT and the use of these innovations.

Conclusion: Alternatives

If class determines AI, and in present-day America that means the ruling class, then only changes in the class structure can pose different questions and answers to our originally stated problems. Only by sharpening the class struggle, which changes who rules the banks, factories and social institutions, will new assumptions direct AI and IT and other innovations.

Only workers, professionals and scientists, who replace the prioritizing of profits with meeting social needs, can produce an AI that lowers the retirement age, increases national health care, facilitates workers’ decision making, distributes high quality education and information to the citizenry, reduces inequalities and shifts earnings from capital to labor.

(Republished from The James Petras Website by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Economics • Tags: Artificial Intelligence 
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  1. Zyezek says:

    This reads as nothing more than general-use, dated Marxist agitprop that barely has anything to do with AI (or even IT in general).

    Guess what, all socialism does is substitute the merchant price plutocrats who reign under capitalism for an even LESS capable, more corrupt nomenklatura caste. I’m all for continued research & philosophical work into seeking new and better ideas about how to run an economy. But pushing a weak tea version of the most scientifically falsified ideology in human history, one actually put to experimental tests it repeatedly & consistently failed, isn’t it. AI, even if it bootstraps to sentience, still won’t fix social systems based on promoting dissipative mindless hedonism OR a mindset that only works in practice for eusocial insects.

    • Replies: @another fred
  2. I always cringe at the assertion that “man is God’s highest creation”. What does that say about God? If man is able to create intelligence why call it artificial. It will be the first, the original and only intelligence on this planet.

  3. Miro23 says:

    A good article that mostly explains developments in one paragraph.

    ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and related technological innovations are financed, designed, controlled and ultimately applied by the major corporations and financial institutions in order to REDUCE THE COST OF LABOR and to enhance profits and competitiveness between capitalist rivals.

    In fact the last time round, inventions and technology (e.g. electricity, the internal combustion engine, digital information etc.) reduced the cost of labour per unit output but also reduced the cost of consumer goods, making people in industrial societies wealthier. The overall return to labour wasn’t reduced, and wages/salaries were just paid for new kinds of less physical work.

    It’s legitimate to ask if A.I. will go the same way (e.g. Google Search displacing libraries and Google Translate displacing human translators).

    The article suggests that the A.I. automation surplus will be captured by the owners of capital and technology making Marx’s predictions finally come true – obliging governments to intervene to appropriate (part of) the surplus on behalf of the public.

    Why won’t the overall return to labour stay the same (same as last time) through new kinds of employment?

    Because A.I. is intruding into “humans only” areas like flying aircraft and running traffic control systems, thereby reducing human value added (i.e. human commercial worth). And the same applies to lower wage occupations like supermarket checkouts and potentially much more.

  4. I suspect that a significant portion of Americans are about to become subsistence farmers. They will be working to exhaustion. They will not have a robot. They will not get minimum wage. They will not get food stamps. When the .001% no longer need us they will watch us die off. Unless we get them first. This is why I am a Nationalist. The globalists are about Universal Eternal Feudalism.

  5. @Zyezek

    This reads as nothing more than general-use, dated Marxist agitprop that barely has anything to do with AI (or even IT in general). …

    But pushing a weak tea version of the most scientifically falsified ideology in human history, one actually put to experimental tests it repeatedly & consistently failed, isn’t it.

    Well said.

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