The site uses cookies that you may not want. Continued use means acceptance. For more information see our privacy policy.

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.

The Ways of Republican Decline

Republicans continue to narrow their base, despite knowing that expanding their base is necessary for long-term viability. There are a couple of different scenarios for how the Republican party handles its decline.

At least from the 2012 autopsy, and realistically far earlier, Republicans have been on notice that they should work to broaden support, and yet they have only done the opposite, including by supporting Donald John Trump. While demographic shifts may not be swift, they are brutal if Republicans do not change their methods and policies to be applicable to more people. Here are a few scenarios.

Marginal States Change, Solid States Stick

In this scenario, some states, those that have faster demographic and cultural shifts, see their state parties reject the national party’s policies. This is what happened prior to the Civil War, where Northern Democrats could not afford to be full-on abolitionists, but also could not afford to fully embrace expansion of slavery. There were several flavors of Democrats who were sufficiently distanced to be quasi-third-parties.

The main question here is whether those Republicans in such states hang on to national standing at all. The House being smaller than it should, thus each member representing more constituents than they should, makes it harder to not slip into obscurity as a party in such states. On the other hand, state politics and gerrymandering can help keep people relevant when and where they shouldn’t be.

There will probably be some states where there are new RINO-style politicians who diverge from the national party.

Meanwhile, states that have entrenched Republican majorities will continue to embrace the same draconian flavors of insanity. They won’t change. They will have diminished power, but only go harder on their whining and conspiratorial nonsense as a result.

Precipitous Crisis

There were several in the lead-up to the Civil War, with the war largely a result of the reaction to Abraham Lincoln’s election. If some kind of left-wing figure akin to the insanity that is Donald John Trump were elected, perhaps a full-on Marxist with a nose ring, then the deep-red states might again attempt to detach themselves from the nation. If the Democratic party were not the core of the country, Donald John Trump’s election just might have triggered secession attempts.

There are other sorts of crises imaginable, including particularly bad rulings by an out-of-step Supreme Court, which could lead to a fast failure of the Republican party. In the SCOTUS case, a ruling bad enough that it drives key departures of legislative members in order to enact changes to the law, which would be calamitous for the Republicans. That break-away group would typically be the same subset from purple states who would otherwise shift in the first scenario.

The Right Thing

This scenario has Republicans simply choosing, by and with consent of the AM dial, to shift their policies toward workable solutions where they’re currently not and creating new policies where none exist (things like environment and healthcare). They simply choose to be a moderate, right-leaning party again. They stop their voter suppression efforts and other racist modes. They choose to assimilate to American culture and norms.

(Haha, only serious:) Because, let’s face it, the Republicans in this country have a problem adjusting to the culture. They speak their own language (crying about things they don’t like as fake news rather than simply saying the truth scares them, for example). They wear their own garb (socks with sandals, open-carry of guns as fashion accessories). They are immigrants to our country far more than most immigrants are anymore.

The Current State

This gets overlooked, but underneath all the Donald John Trump bullshit going on, a lot of Republicans are mulling. Some are opposed to the president, others are still floating along in that stream but are looking for a branch sticking out into the flow, or looking for a calm to swim to shore, and more than will admit are watching ahead for rapids. All of that is doubly true for the business-class Republicans that are primarily involved because it builds and maintains a client base, it sustains their business.

What’s doubly true is that many Republicans already have deep problems with at least some of the orthodoxy of the party, whether it’s on the environment or abortion or the hypocrisy on federal spending or doing absolutely nothing about firearm safety. This is a very vulnerable party, and the worst part of it is that they are largely cornered by their own isolated media apparatus that makes it very difficult for any real movement to occur on policy without hardcore reaction from the bedrock of the party.

I continue to believe that over the next decade or two, the Republican party will either make a dramatic shift toward mainstream policy or they will cease to be a functioning party altogether. No number of judges on any courts in any land will do anything to change that, except perhaps to act as a catalyst to speed it up.

A periodic restatement: I am not a Democrat. I am generally opposed to parties, but tend to vote for Democrats because they, as a party seeking a broad coalition, represent a median position that attempts to move forward on a variety of important policy issues. The Republican parties of the past might have been able to earn my vote in some cases, but the modern Republican party has repeatedly and intentionally shown themselves to be supporters of scoundrelry.

That said, and my opposition to parties notwithstanding, if parties there will be, there needs to be a minimum of two viable parties. And if the Republicans pulled their heads from their rears, sobered up, they could again be one of those. But they have shown no symptoms of recovery. And for that, I oppose them utterly.

Government and Organizational Bandwidth

Overly limiting the size of an organization harms its ability to do meaningful work.

The idea of bandwidth in computing is how much data can move between two points in a given period of time. Usually we measure that in bits per second, but either of the measures can be any volume, depending on the application. For example, human knowledge might be measured in some large measure of bits per decade or century.

As our country has grown, part of our government has as well. The executive branch has ballooned in size, and not just official workers, but contractors. Meanwhile, the other two branches have not grown nearly as much. While there are somewhat more staff in Congress than in past decades, and while staffing can do a lot in helping legislative bandwidth, it can’t do as much as more members of congress and the senate can.

The same goes for the judiciary. While the Supreme Court can mostly limit its caseload artificially, doing so does not make the law better and only makes the caseload manageable for so few members of a court. The subordinate courts, meanwhile, have their own bandwidth issues.

For any organization, there is only so much that bandwidth expansion can do. But when there is an obvious bandwidth problem, adding more people is the solution. Expanding the Supreme Court and generally improving the organization of lower courts, without regard to the current political issues with Republican court-packing, makes sense. The court should be bigger, to allow for more cases to be heard.

But wait, if you add more justices won’t they all ask questions and all have to sit and vote and learn all the ins and outs of every case? Not necessarily. Each case could be assigned to a subset of justices. A full court would hear cases of original jurisdiction, of course, but those are rare. For appellate cases, some mixture of justices would hear arguments and vote on the outcome, and, when warranted, vote to pull in the full court on issues of particular weight or that were highly contentious.

Similar efforts already work in the legislature. The committee-to-body legislative and oversight efforts are well known and have worked well. The full chamber doesn’t have to drill down on an issue, but relies on a subset of its membership to do so and report back.

The Senate is a strange case, as expanding it would require amending the Constitution. But it could be done, keeping equal suffrage among the states, while increasing the number of senators per state to three, four, or even five. The larger number of members would be able to create more committee work with a better understanding. And more members means lobbying power is diminished, as they would have to lobby even more members.

In the House, expansion serves another purpose, which is to bring the members closer to their constituents. Each member serves an increasing number of citizens, who have less and less voice with their government as population grows. By expanding the House, more concerns can be heard by more representatives, which will help to make a more responsive government that serves the people.

The election is in about three weeks.