Artificial Intelligence – a great potential or a grave danger for humanity?

Andrοs Payiatsos

In a speech in mid-September, 2023, Ray Dalio, founder of the biggest hedge fund on the planet, Bridgewater Associates, named five issues that in his opinion were to interact and transform the way the world works: “unprecedented debt creation, internal political conflict in countries like the U.S., the changing world order, climate change and technological breakthroughs.” When it came to the latter, speaking of artificial intelligence (AI), Dalio commented:

“AI is going to be a major transformative power… like nuclear, just more powerful… In terms of productivity, it could be mind-blowing… There are going to be robots with AI – you’re making people, almost. If it’s managed well, I think that the workweek could lessen. Maybe … the workweek goes to a three-day workweek or so.” 

A few days later, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, which invested US$13 bn in OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, made similar remarks about drastically cutting down the working week. 

Last but not least, another billionaire venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, whose firm, Khosla Ventures invested US$50 bn in OpenAI, stated: 

“…there will be a billion bipedal robots in 25 years…  in 10 years we’ll have free doctors, free tutors for everyone and free lawyers… AI could do 80% of jobs in 25 years …” (Business Insider,  03.12.2023).

In March 2023 Khosla commented:

“This large transformation is the opportunity to free humanity from the need to work. People will work when they want to work on what they want to work on,”.

And in yet another interview, Khosla repeated these same ideas:

“…The need to work will disappear. It will be hugely empowering and freeing for society. Kids won’t be taught at age 12, ‘you need to get a job’. It’ll be like, ‘hey, discover your passion and follow it’.” 

From the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom

Marx and Engles described more than one and a half centuries ago how capitalism would create the productive forces that could liberate humanity from the need to work in order to survive. But, also, that in order to achieve this, to pass “from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom”, workers’ power and socialism would have to be established. They had also raised the possibility of the annihilation of civilization, if the working class proved unable to lead the transformation. Roza Luxembourg used the expression, which has become popular today, that the choice before humanity was “socialism or barbarism”. 

Today, these projections are so absolutely real. The potential of applying the new technologies created by capitalism can transform the lives of billions and create precisely the conditions that billionaires like Dalio, Gates and Khosla are describing: no need to work to earn the necessities of life, just follow your interests, develop your talents and passions.

But of course, capitalism will never allow this – this is what these billionaires “miss”. In fact in a whole number of countries, hours of work are increasing and overtime is not paid – in India there is an open debate among representatives of the system why people should work 70 hours a week!

Capitalism will use new technologies, as it always has done in its history, to attack workers’ rights and living standards. Only through struggle, and actually hard struggle in the present era, can workers shorten the working week (or increase the share of their wages in gross national income). Similar claims were made with the invention and development of computer technology. However, the freedom from the necessity to work and increase in quality of life and leisure time never materialized, on the contrary the new technologies led to further intensification of working conditions and exploitation.

ChatGPT, robots and more… 

Artificial Intelligence entered the daily lives of millions when ChatGPT was launched in November ’22. Since then, discussion is raging, both as regards the potential of AI but also as regards the dangers. AI is still at its very initial stages. But few doubt the tremendous potential it entails. 

AI and robots are two of the more recent technological advances. There are more. Since the latter part of the 2010s three-dimensional (3D) printers have come into production. They can construct houses, blocks of flats, bridges, roads, etc, without the touch of human hand – just by being programmed and supplied with the necessary raw materials.

And then it is the speed of communication, already mentioned above – 5G is in the process of being employed on scale, while 6G is already being researched. Last but not least, quantum computing, which is expected to become part of daily life in the next decades, can run at millions of times faster than present computers. It shouldn’t be difficult to imagine what kind of revolutionary transformation the combination of all of these giant steps can mean, for the benefit of humanity. 

But capitalism works in the opposite direction. AI and robots already loom as great dangers to the working class. The most obvious one is unemployment. Undoubtedly, new jobs will be created once robots enter mass production. But how about all those workers who will be replaced by robots – 80% according to Ray Dalio, or to use the words of Gita Gopinath, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Deputy Managing Director:  

[AI could] shake up the labor market in unprecedented ways… The number of jobs affected could be overwhelming… It is quite possible that AI will simply replace human jobs without any effort to create new, more productive jobs for humans to move into.”   

There is another danger. And this is the danger of machines getting out of control. How is it possible that robots could turn “against their creators”? What under different conditions would be unthinkable, is however an existing danger under capitalism. Even the most optimistic of capitalist commentators cannot rule this entirely. Even Elon Musk, a crude and ruthless defender of capitalist exploitation and profit, is worried about the dangers. He has made statements of the kind:  

“…artificial intelligence is one of the biggest threats to humanity. This is because humans face the threat of being outsmarted by machines for the first time.” And “AI will have the potential to become the most disruptive force in history… We will have something that is, for the first time, smarter than the smartest human.”  

Actually, the danger is not represented by AI itself but by capitalism. Different capitalists will invest in AI, with profit as their sole motive. The technological giants of the planet, like Microsoft, Google, Meta and Amazon as well as many other European, Japanese and Chinese companies which are rising fast, are in a race to outcompete their opponents, whatever the dangers entailed in creating machines with such capabilities.

Sam Altman and the crisis in OpenAI

The recent crisis in OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT is a very clear verification of this. OpenAI was created in 2015 as a nonprofit startup. The majority of the board members in OpenAI were worried about CEO Sam Altmans’ real motives and deeds and about the dangers that AI represented, and wanted to keep OpenAI as a non-profit company. Despite this (OpenAI being a “non-profit company”) Altman had become a multimillionaire. Then it was discovered that Altman was working with a number of other engineers in OpenAI to create a secret AI programme under the name Q*. When this became known the majority of the board members decided to lay Altman off. At that point Microsoft, which had invested 13 billion USD in OpenAI and owned 49% of its shares, intervened and forced the reinstatement of Altman and the dismissal of the board members who had asked Altman to go. The message is more than clear: in capitalism, profit seeking wins against well meaning, or naïve exponents of “the benefit of humanity” who do not understand the class nature of things.  

Barbarism or Socialism  

In other words, at a time when the conditions created by capitalism could create “heaven on earth”, the system actually represents a grave threat to the same productive forces that it has developed to such a high degree.

The future promised by capitalism is one of gloom, as we have developed above and in other materials we produced. One of economic stagnation, recession and crisis; of falling living standards, particularly for the new generation even in the rich industrial countries; of continuous attacks on democratic, and other rights; of the rise of far right governments and the strengthening of Nazi organisations internationally; of environmental catastrophe and of a danger to civilization and even life as we know it; of religious fanaticism, racism and nationalism; of hundreds of millions of refugees, to which the “civilized” and “developed” nations shut the doors of entry, although it is their policies that are the root cause of the migration waves; of the return of military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, in countries where it was thought that “democracy” was securely established; of unparalleled corruption and hypocrisy in the upper echelons, together with unprecedented inequality; and of vicious wars, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives for the sake of economic or geopolitical interests, or simply prestige.

Hundreds of millions on the planet hate the system, hate the conditions of life that it creates for them, the despair it is pushing them into. But they don’t see a political alternative. They don’t see an alternative organisation of society that would allow for a solution to all the problems they face.

Colossal struggles are of course taking place, in all sections of the globe, but they are mainly of a defensive character. They are not struggles that aim at social change and at an alternative social system. The main reason for this is the lack of revolutionary leadership for the struggling masses.

From an objective point of view, capitalism is overripe for its overthrow and the transformation of society on socialist lines. A socialist society could in the most natural and straightforward way employ all the huge technological advances and transform the economy and also the lives of the inhabitants of the planet.

We are at a stage at which humanity can employ machines to do what is necessary for the reproduction of the human race but also protect the environment and all the species of the planet. The necessary time for work could be reduced to a few hours per week. People could choose to follow their interests, talents and passions. 

At the same time the working class is stronger in numbers than has even been in its history. But despite the anger at the conditions of life and the determination of their struggles, workers internationally lack the necessary tools, i.e., mass revolutionary socialist parties, to overthrow capitalism and lay the basis for a socialist society. The building of such mass revolutionary parties, as parts of a socialist revolutionary international organisation, by working class activists and Marxists is the most important and pressing task for of our epoch.

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