Artificial intelligence and alienation

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By MAURO LUIS IASI*

For terminological precision, the acronym Artificial Intelligence should mean Alien Intelligence

 “The electronic brain commands \ Sends and orders \ He is the one who commands \ But he doesn’t walk” (Gilberto Gil,Electronic brain.

In a brilliant cartoon, which unfortunately I don't know who the author is, we see a person asked another if he is concerned with the advancement of artificial intelligence and the other responds that he is not, that he is more concerned with the retreat of natural intelligence.

There were many reactions to applications that promise texts on any subject, creative drawings, fake photos, debates about the meaning of life or philosophy or sociology or culinary art, poems and song lyrics, all of this in the face of a mere command and certain indications of what is desired. Representatives of the companies launched a manifest letter against the dangers of Artificial Intelligence and asked for time, it is not known whether to be able to enter the competition or to think about the supposedly ethical dimensions of such technological development.

Other more pragmatic ones have released books, such as one that presents a manual on how to write successful novels using the famous application, we don't know if it was written by the so-called author or by the application. Anyway, strangely presented in printed form, in what the oldest would call a "book". In this small manual it is stated that the aspiring author must provide the application with a theme, protagonists and characters, a line of development of the plot and other tips for the artificial intelligence to write the novel for him.

Two things immediately catch our attention. Firstly, the fact that searches and research on artificial intelligence already have a very old history, probably in the 1950s, arousing euphoric hopes and ethical doubts ever since. Aristotle, from the distant Antiquity, already ironized that if the instruments could move alone, slaves would not be necessary, evidently in order, in the face of the absurdity of such a premise, to justify slavery as necessary and natural. Hannah Arendt, faced with the technological advances witnessed in the 1950s, updates her master's premise, now not as irony, but as a basis for the somber prediction that in a few years the factories would empty and the human condition would be faced with the catastrophic dilemma of a society founded on work that eliminates employment.

The second order of reflection leads us to an even older myth, which marks modern society. I am referring here to the fear that human works get out of control and turn against their creators. This atavistic fear recurs, as expressed in the classic Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley, in the also classic desperation of Mickey Mouse trying to control brooms that he set in motion to avoid his work in the Disney film, Fantasy fabric (1940), without forgetting the fundamental premise of the saga Matrix (1999, 2003 and 2021), in which machines replaced humans (Animatrix.

In the case of Mary Shelley, not by chance the daughter of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, during a rainy stay with her friends having fun in Lake Geneva, telling horror stories and discussing the studies of Eramus Darwin (scientist and poet of the XNUMXth century , grandfather of Charles Darwin), who claimed to have moved dead matter by means of electricity, came up with the idea for a short story that eventually became the famous novel about Frankenstein. About the idea, the author stated some time later that it would be “terrible, extremely frightening the effect of any human effort in simulating the stupendous mechanism of the creator of the world”.

However, everything humanity has done to date in the development of technology can be described as the fate of Prometheus, the subtitle of Shelley's work. He, legend says, was charged by the gods to create man from clay (in which we observe that outsourcing and plagiarism are ancient things), but he ended up stealing fire from the gods to offer men and for such a crime he was condemned. to being trapped on a rock having his liver devoured and recreated to be devoured again by vultures.

The human being is a being who makes instruments to complement his precarious natural anatomy, compensating for his straight teeth, lack of claws and strength, with stone axes, arrows and spears. To do so, he makes use of two natural characteristics of the species: opposable thumbs and a highly developed telencephalon. With this he developed, as Marx affirms, an activity exclusive to the human race: work. For the German thinker, work requires teleological capacity, that is, the incredible ability to foresee the desired result in your brain, interestingly the root of the name Prometheus (the one who sees first).

The human brain has the capacity to store information and associate it when necessary, so it can respond to needs using its previous experience and skill with its hands by creating various instruments and techniques.

What is called Artificial Intelligence? In principle, it seeks information and associates it according to the need to respond to something or someone. This would be the aspect of intelligence, the artificial character is that it does not seek it using a brain that personally stores experiences, it searches in a previously fed database of information through circuits and algorithms.

The great leap of this tool, experts say, is that compared to previous computational forms, which also sought data and associated them to perform tasks, they can (or more precisely are being developed to do so) learn. In other words, accumulating “experiences” that can be used in other situations. The great difficulty in this field, according to those who understand the subject and who differ from a bunch of palpitators, is that computers do not make mistakes and error is an important path of intelligence.

There is a very fine tuning in human action, which causes the action to be corrected through experience and thus perfected, keeping it in memory and applying it when required. A scientist researching Artificial Intelligence did an interesting test. He threw a ball to a person. Randomly changing the trajectory of the ball with small movements, the person quickly managed to catch it, correcting the position of the hands and body. As for the machine, this implies a series of pre-programmed commands and the ability to see that the ball is coming a few millimeters to one side or the other, which cannot be anticipated, that is, the machine had to learn. Well, that's what the development of Artificial Intelligence seeks. Interesting to note that all the development of the technique was to do what we as humans could not do, but now it would be to do what only we as humans can do. Strange.

But why should this scare us? There is certainly a series of very useful functions for this technological development, from air traffic control to asking the speaker to play your favorite song.

In his beautiful song from the 1960s, Gilberto Gil seeks to highlight what distinguishes him from the electronic brain. Already at the beginning of the song, dear Gil says that the electronic brain “does almost everything, but he is mute” and soon after, in another part of the lyrics, he states that he “commands, orders and commands”, but he “does not walk ”. Well, today we can say that the Alexa and some robots are there to prove that they can talk and walk. It seems that some apps can even establish an interesting conversation about whether god exists or gather all available information on the subject of death and perhaps offer pertinent reflections or simulations of spiritual comfort to advance on our inevitable path to death.

The current fear, true to Hannah Arendt's premise, is that such a capacity will replace human beings. There are already lists of professions that will become extinct with the generalization of Artificial Intelligence, which include telemarketing and customer service agents, sociologists, photographers, journalists, translators, researchers, data analysts, legal assistants, therapists and psychologists, physical educators, nutritionists, among others. The forecast, in the case of researchers, is one year. I found it interesting that philosophers are not on the list, perhaps because they are already considered extinct.

Let's take it easy. Some so-called professions should really be extinct, first because they are not professions, such as telemarketing or customer service (forecast to disappear in six months to a year – I think), extremely precarious jobs that do not offer any professional perspective. Secondly, due to the fact that some activities are degrading and stupefying, so it would be better if they were relegated to instruments or algorithms (which, it must be said, need to improve a lot – only those who have suffered from stupid self-services know what it is about) ).

What strikes me is that the fear is based on a complete lack of understanding of human work, reduced to a mere task. It would be too much to ask them to read Marx, but it would help to see the distinction made by the conservative Hannah Arendt in her book on the human condition between labor and work. Fear is an expression of our times of decadence, but as such it is a faithful expression of the miserable materiality in which we find ourselves.

If the instruments, in addition to the mechanization of tasks, develop the ability to store data, relate them to answer questions, learn and be able to simulate experience and memory, something remains that seems to be disregarded: intentionality. In other words why to do all this.

The answer is that we live in times of real subordination of life and, therefore, of the human to capital and the process of valuing value. As such, at the height of reification in which the human becomes a thing and things are fetishized. The place of the human being in the activity of work is not reduced to the thing in which he objectifies his being, in it lies the intentionality and the ultimate end of the thing in the consumption of the ultimate substance of the object being, which is the satisfaction of a need of the body or of the body. spirit.

Thinking from a human perspective, we would be the beginning and end of such a process, but subsumed under the domain of capital and value, we become means of the valorization process in which the intentionality and the ultimate end is capital and its valorization movement. Capital is the subject and we are the means of its realization.

What Artificial Intelligence accesses in its database is not artificial intelligence, but the set of objectified human knowledge and experiences, distanced from their creators and which return to it as a hostile force that threatens them. In other words, alienate yourself. What you access is nothing more than an instrument that was made by human beings who objectified and equally alienated themselves in it. Both the technological instrument and the data set are the product of human intelligence that is hidden in its strange product. For terminological precision, the acronym Artificial Intelligence should mean Alien Intelligence.

The electronic brain now talks and walks, it can discuss whether God exists or the meaning of death, it can even systematize a coherent text on Marxian social theory and the possibility of a social revolution, it can even take over and consider us obsolete, useless and destroy us as in Terminator (1984) or in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), who knows. However, the subject of this threat is not technology, but a class that has transformed the necessary means of life into commodities and these into vehicles of value and more value. Capital is the strange force that can decide whether we live or die, whether we will produce life or death. Behind capital there is a class whose interest is to maintain the process of accumulation: the monopoly big bourgeoisie.

There is also a last element in this process of alienation, what Marx and later Lukács called “ideological decay”. If technology is an objectification of human intelligence, it was also a means of developing it. Now, under the envelope of relations that constitute capital society at the height of its development, it is transformed into its opposite, it starts to constitute a barrier to the development of human knowledge. Decaying naivety imagines a dataset and a search engine both devoid of interests and values, but the mere use of a search engine demonstrates the fallacy of such objective neutrality.

An app can do an adequate text on the foundations of sociology and its three founding authors – Marx, Durkheim and Weber – but will the lazy student learn anything by asking the machine to do its job? Thanks to the app, even an idiot can write a novel, but he will remain an idiot. There is a difference between associating scattered words and giving it the format of a text or an imitation of intellectual production, because this implies the intentionality and subjectivity of the author who, by contributing to collective knowledge, enhances himself. Subsumed to the order of merchandise and capital, as Marx said, the more the worker realizes the merchandise, the more he is unrealized.

In the case we are considering, the lazy and alleged author who only asks the machine to gather the existing and previously stored data, without adding anything either to the collective knowledge or to itself: an algorithm can write a text, but it will never write The capital, can write a novel, but will never write The Grapes of Wrath. You can put together beautiful words in a perfect meter, but you will never be Mayakovsky, you can make a song but you can never be Caetano Veloso. And if one day, due to an absurd hypothesis, it will be so that as a machine it can be what we, as humans, give up being.

You know Gil… allow me to touch on his verses: “Our path does not have to be to death \ Because we are alive \ We are very alive and we know \ That no electronic brain gives us help \ With its plastic buttons and its glass eyes” .

* Mauro Luis Iasi He is a professor at the School of Social Service at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of The metamorphoses of class consciousness (popular expression).

Originally published on Boitempo's blog.


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