The digital hive

Image: Cottonbro


Artificial intelligence makes humanity stupider

Imagine that at Christmas an application becomes available that allows you to make your own music from a mix of some chords by Sérgio Godinho and José Afonso, poems by Garota Não and Fausto Bordalo Dias and some arrangements by José Mário Branco. Everything possible by simply pressing a button. Are there copyrights that have been extorted?

None of that will be of your making, but good luck to anyone trying to dispute artistic precedence in court, it will be difficult to identify the inspiration for each of the components of the mixture – and the application can make two different ones with the same ingredients in seconds. The music industry may change in the immediate future and artistic production may dry up in the process. This possibility raises several difficult questions.

Production and means of production

The first issue is that the means of production is new. The music that will come out of this application will still be a cultural product, but it is a new form of culture, which takes pastiche, in addition to the theft of intellectual property, to a new level. Art, in this case, will only be the simulacrum of art.

Then, more will be produced by producing nothing and culture will be a form of inculture and inspiration a trick. To combat this risk, several writers have sued companies that offer artificial intelligence applications – and there is now a race in this market – for having trained their algorithms with their texts without authorization. They pirated to teach a program how to pirate.

The implications of this system are general. Even before the application I'm imagining that pretends we're good musicians, there's already one that allows us to pretend we're a writer, like ChatGPT. There is already literature written in this way in bookstores. And there is panic in schools among those who had committed to stimulating creativity, asking students to write essays, investigate and substantiate an opinion, instead of examining crosses. All that is over, serious work is now indistinguishable from a file spit out by an algorithm. The education system will readapt by going back to the time of the oral call.

Production and regulation

The second issue is the mode of production itself. Modern society regulates the way a car or other machine is built: there are acceptable materials and others that are rejected, the processes are patented and verifiable. On the other hand, unverifiable algorithms are now produced, the means of cultural production of the XNUMXst century. Applied to the creation of artifacts, whether texts, or music, or games, their way of making decisions is not scrutinizable: it is as if we were prohibited from knowing how the car's gearbox works.

What has been most discussed is how this algorithmic power generates self-centered communities and rewards the escalation of emotional aggression, of which hate speeches are happy users. In fact, hypercommunication impedes known modes of intermediation, quickly surpasses any attempt at confirmation or denial and is manageable by a black box which, unlike other means of production that exist in modern society, is extralegal and, therefore, is above the regulatory range.

But there is another of its facets that begins to deserve attention: the ambition to absorb us in a virtual world that has occupied our lives since we were children (in the United Kingdom, a quarter of children up to the age of four have their own device to watch streaming). The Metaverse project faded, but it was just the first move of this game.

And, in fact, immersion in the digital hive has already achieved powerful results. Virtual life is anxiety-provoking, it alters our notion of time, promotes a multiplicity of tasks and imposes the need for comforting sociability due to the trivialization of permanent communication. At the base of this transition is the colonization of our ability to read and concentrate. A University College of London has now completed a five-year study on reading habits based on the recording of searches carried out by millions of users in two large libraries, which offer access to newspapers, online texts and other digital resources.

The conclusion is overwhelming: readers no longer read, they skip, that is, they are led by the algorithm. They use a page or two from a source, move on to another text, and these “are signs of a new way of reading, in which users search horizontally through titles and look for immediate results. It’s as if they were online to avoid reading in the traditional sense”, say the study’s authors.

For this reason, Sweden will stop using school textbooks online, because children need to learn to read a book. The OECD Director of Education adds that “the greater and more frequent the use of digital technology in the classroom, the worse the performance of students [even] in the digital reading test”. Thus, the means of production conditions our way of learning and thinking, not only in the format of language but also in our memory and imagination.

Applications that seem to offer us a cultural product, deceiving our friends, regarding our musical abilities, or our teachers, regarding our study, are in fact changing our attention pattern and our ability to express ourselves. Artificial intelligence is changing humanity, making it stupider.

*Francisco Louçã He is an economist and was coordinator of the Portuguese Left Bloc (2005-2012). Author, among other books, of The Midas Curse: The Culture of Late Capitalism (Lark).

Originally published on Express newspaper.

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