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The Artificial Intelligence that is a Corporation.

What is climate change and carbon pollution but the gray goo problem?

Let’s start by asking what the purported dangers of general artificial intelligence are. The ones most listed include things like:

  • They won’t care about people and will therefore get lots of humans killed or kill them.
  • They won’t think about the consequences of their actions, instead blindly following whatever their goal is.
  • They will spread misinformation, and people will believe it. Those lies will cause harm.

Remind you of anyone?

Corporations (or any organization) are artificially intelligent constructions. While nominally there are humans at the controls, for a variety of reasons this is provably false and nothing but a happy fantasy.

You see, all those lawyers and C-suite suits are constrained by their directives and their personas (for which the corporations selected them in the first place), so they don’t really have all that free will stuff you’ve been taught since the Garden of Eden days.

If a CEO finds out that their company’s pollution is killing people, how many step up and shut it down? (I’d like to know, but couldn’t find a reliable source, so take it rhetorically if you wish.) More likely, they worry about the stock price, their child’s reputation, and they at best try to clean things up a bit, maybe pay for a few funerals.

The free will of any man is tempered by her fetters. She will only act as freely as she feels she is able. Only as freely as she is to think, and thinking is constrained by the limits of the information she has. She will not see through lies she prefers to be true if it’s more profitable to ignore them. We see this example repeated. Read about the meltdown at Chernobyl. Read statements from Republicans after they leave office and don’t have to spout schlock to get reelected. Over and over we see the pattern of the chains on thinking and on acting.

Now a lot of (rich and powerful) people share a curious worry about artificial intelligence. They call for rigor to ensure AI doesn’t discriminate against people (while various systems do just that in jails, in polluting of neighborhoods, in unequal education, and on).

They call for protections against robots used in war, while the man-made wars continue to litter the earth with indiscriminate weapons, like land mines and unexploded cluster bomblets, that will kill for generations after the war ends.

And as for misinformation, corporations lie and mislead with impunity as long as it’s not outright fraud (and if it is, they pay their fine and keep on existing). There’s even a whole sub-industry dedicated to misinformation, known as marketing.

Should we be worried about general artificial intelligence, and even lesser forms, being used to harm our society and harm our planet? Yes!

But, we should be alarmed (and many of us are) at all the existing ways the exact things are already being done. These threats are not novel to machine systems! They already happen. Most if not all have been going on for longer than the age of the United States of America.

The pollution isn’t worse because an AI does it. The discrimination isn’t worse because an AI does it. The deaths from indiscriminate warfare are not worse because an AI does it. The fact that an inhuman being perpetrates an act of inhumanity does not make it more inhumane than when a human does it, nor when a organ built of humans does it.

As I wrote about in my book, corporations are artificial persons, possessing artificial intelligence. That is, they have the means to dispatch pattern matching systems (humans, and lately computers) to carry out tasks on data and react based on the results of the information they receive. The corporation is one of many. Governments are artificial intelligences. NGOs, non-profits, departments, churches, all these organs, all have some level of artificial intelligence.

People of sufficient wealth and influence are themselves artificially intelligent. They can afford to hire people who pass off their work (ghostwriters, publicists, so on). And all of us have some level of social AI working on our behalf (I didn’t make this computer, this internet, my clothes, so on). But not nearly at the level the wealthy have, to augment their existence through the labors of others. An AI isn’t going to pull all the world out of a bit bucket. It will do like we already do and pull information from the rest of the world, ask people or machines to look up or research or build or whatever else. Just like corporations do today.

And what do corporations do with their artificial intelligence? Many of the same things great and scary, wonderful and terrible, that we worry AI will do. They abuse people, they educate people. They deliver aid to the needy, they create scarcity that makes people need aid. They help people move to a new country, to start a new life. They block people from moving to a new country, or deport them.

Churches have been around for thousands of years. Governments too. Sorry to break it to you, but AI already exists. It’s already a threat to peace and prosperity. It’s already hard to understand why it acts as it does, already hallucinates and operates in single-minded ways that ignore common sense.

Let us hope the next generation of artificial intelligence is a little smarter.

Getting the Most Out of Your New Internet

A sideways response to Anil Dash’s essay, “The Web We Lost.”

I can remember back when CD players first began appearing in new motor vehicles, they carried over a tradition that they had started with tape decks. They would include audio media with the vehicle, supposedly explaining the capability and the indomitability of the beast you have saddled. They would also throw in a disc of elevator music to demonstrate the sound system, if the salesman lacked the dexterity to elicit a liked genre so as to engage the customer more directly from a personal library.

Anil Dash: The Web We Lost, an essay mentioned in numerous blogs and aggregators of late, attempts to paint a picture of the web with various insidious facts of nature undoing the best of man’s works. Facts like turf battles between the Facebook/Instagram alliance and the Twitter syndicate. Facts like the monetization of hyperlinks via reputational dependency.

The problem with that analysis: it conflates the hope of the web at the time with the web we had then. We didn’t lose that web. We never had it. The real need for a better web defends perfectly against any retrospective fondness for the early Twenty-Aughts (or where we hoped it would be today).

Yes, Microsoft Corporation wanted to be the digital passport. Google desires being pulled from your pocket and used to buy everything from Abba-Zabbas to Zoot suits. But neither wants to pay any taxes. In the latter case, we should feel small if we replace the credit card oligopoly/trust with a handful of providers from the likes of Google and other giants. But that possibility arises out of the ineptitude of our current governments, too senile to draft and ratify a digital supplement to the Uniform Commercial Code.

In the case of sign-on, that story fell flat then as it does today. A system like Mozilla Persona must supplant the idea of site sign-up, much less walled single sign-on. That system allows multiple identities, including pseudonymity. It did not exist in the web of yesteryear.

Maybe people uploaded to Flickr five years ago, but it never allowed decentralized sharing as suggested by Media Goblin. Increasingly we feel the need for federated and decentralized systems, as we continue to recognize the pain of being subject to a single provider’s whim. That’s as true for one-off game servers as for the monoliths: Google Corporation, Facebook Corporation, et alia.

The Internet we make versus the Internet today versus yesterday. We will never be given the Internet. Not by corporations, and not by governments. We must defend her. We must build the services and mores that serve us best. The governments grew from an age where monarchical decrees came from gods. The corporations arrived as successful market manipulators.

Corporations brought you those promotional discs trying to instill a post-purchase, post-hypnotic suggestion of your potency and fairness if you continue to buy their products.

The Compact Disc Digital Audio System offers the best possible sound reproduction – on a small convenient sound-carrier unit. The Compact Disc’s remarkable performance is a result of a unique combination of digital playback with laser optics. For the best results you should apply the same care in storing and handling the Compact Disc as with conventional records. No further cleaning will be necessary if the Compact Disc is always held by the edges and is replaced in its case directly after playing. Should the compact Disc become soiled by fingerprints, dust or dirt, it can be wiped always in a straight line, from center to edge) with a clean and lint free soft, dry cloth, No solvent or abrasive cleaner should ever be used on the disc. If you follow these suggestions, the Compact Disc will provide a life time of pure listening enjoyment.

— Text from early Audio CDs

Idea being that an early adopter shelled out a dear price, give them a pat on the back. Fluff their mane a bit. King of the audiophiles.

Encouragement comes from Dash’s admission that the problems will erode over time. But the interim holds a lot of discouragement. Even great projects like Wikipedia do not offer data feeds of pertinent information. Hail to the initiative, but when you look for a specific bit of data you may be stuck with an Excel spreadsheet or worse a PDF document.

How will augmented reality become if we fail to have an augmented web first? Services like Google Search and Wolfram Alpha possess their own data banks, but, again, reliance on a single service provider regularly proves fraught with pain and subject to lawyers’ whimsy.

No, we did not picnic the Internet of yesterday. The Internet of tomorrow, we shall paint red.