Uncommon Sense

September 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence—The Promise

I am a big fan of digital technology and someone who is hopeful of the future. It is harder and harder for me to maintain that stance, however.

Currently there seems to be a widespread debate regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since we know so little the positions staked out are quite broad. At one end is a new future where machines take over dangerous and boring jobs and human beings have more leisure. At the other end, autonomous drones are the first step toward Skynet (the “bad guy” in the Terminator movies) and the extermination of human beings by intelligent killing machines.

There seems also to be many opinions in between the two extremes.

Something I do know is that it will not be the machines that determine the outcome. In every case of new technology impactful enough to change the course of history, the tech has been used to coerce and oppress the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites.

Consider the following photograph.

This is an Amazon warehouse. Amazon is a tech company. So, how do those who work in Amazon’s warehouses fare? Amazon uses personal monitoring algorithms to make sure that its employees do not waste time taking short breaks to catch their breath or go to the bathroom. They are to stay on task as long as Amazon wants them to … or else.

Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, makes huge profits by paying his warehouse employees wages that are so inadequate that many of them need public assistance just to get by. Thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing because they can’t survive on the wages they receive. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is now worth $158 billion, and his wealth increases by leaps and bounds. (And who pays for the public assistance subsidizing Mr. Bezos’ wealth? You and I do, of course.)

If you think back to the first powered looms to make cloth, it was the workers who had to get along with the machinery, not the other way around. Same was true with the assembly line to make automobiles, etc.

I do not argue that there were no benefits from technology that actually accrue to ordinary people. Henry Ford, no friend of workers, paid more than anyone else as a daily wage to pursue his dominance of the auto market. But that was then and now, wage suppression is the favorite tool of the captains of industry. Much of the advanced tech of today is not available to us because, well it is very simple, we cannot afford to pay for it. We don’t make enough money.

As much as people will squander $1000 on a new iPhone, the really impactful tech, such as a liver transplant, is not available to you … unless you can afford to pay for health insurance and many, many people cannot.

So, AI in and of itself will not necessary oppress ordinary people, coercing our labor for the benefit of the elites, but if rich people have any say in the future, my bet is that a sizable amount of AI will be used for just that purpose. (Jeff Bezos has already begun the application.)


  1. The quantity of jobs provided is somehow more noble than the quality. Amazon was looking to move to our area and right away housing prices were projected to go up. Why? Quantity? Hell, they’re still low pay jobs but driving real estate prices? It’s pure stupidity that drives these markets. I agree with your post. And each de-generation is getting more tolerant of the intrusion. Our school complex here is overloaded with camera surveillance and the kids don’t even care at all.

    Liked by 4 people

    Comment by jim- — September 8, 2018 @ 10:32 am | Reply

    • Back when there wasn’t even a phone in my classrooms, there was a loudspeaker and I was in favor of ripping those out. Camera surveillance? Why?

      On Sat, Sep 8, 2018 at 10:32 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 8, 2018 @ 10:44 am | Reply

      • They review a lot of video and the campus has no lockers due to the bomb/gun culture, so eye in the sky keeps people honest. It’s interesting the lack of training/inservice, but the minute a door is left unlocked at night, the first thing they do is check video to see who was last out and cast blame. No training or expectations have ever been laid out, but finding the culprit is always the go to solution. It’s like they’re addicted to it. I worked there a year before I knew the alarm codes (which I finally received from a janitor) but I was held to a security standard I had no idea about. The school board is only focused on money. Education NEVER comes up at the meetings unless an angry parent stands before the board. It’s getting to be a joke, and Washington schools have typically been pretty good. Not sure how the rest of the country fares. I would guess there are a hundred or more cams around campus. My wife and I both quit this summer. I have better things to do than be part of this.

        Liked by 3 people

        Comment by jim- — September 8, 2018 @ 10:55 am | Reply

        • Yeah, all it takes is a couple of assertive people who have strange imaginations and everyone ends up in crazy town.

          On Sat, Sep 8, 2018 at 10:55 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 2 people

          Comment by Steve Ruis — September 8, 2018 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  2. Useful stuff, Steve, thanks. You might be interested in some of this: https://vicgrout.net/2015/11/05/will-the-robots-take-our-jobs-isnt-really-the-important-question/ or https://vicgrout.net/2017/03/01/good-robot-bad-robot/, specific examples of the general stuff I often post at https://vicgrout.net/

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Vic Grout — September 8, 2018 @ 10:35 am | Reply

    • The point people need to grasp is that these debates as to whether emerging AI/new tech will give us a future of leisure/equality or increased inequality/misery are pointless because the answers have nothing to do with the technology. The effects of emerging tech will be solely the result of the political/economic framework we place it in. If unemployment means misery now, then so it will in the future unless we change the bigger picture … and that seems unlikely.

      Liked by 3 people

      Comment by Vic Grout — September 8, 2018 @ 10:44 am | Reply

      • I couldn’t agree more. Here in the U.S. we have a debate over the Theory of Evolution, one side of which doesn’t understand even the rudiments of the theory. Of all of the people debating the AI question, I suggest that the number of people who even understand what AI is is quite small. Many, many of us, however understand greed and greedy people, which is where the discussion should be. Which masters wil AI serve? is the real question. Currently the answer is “the one’s with the money to develop it.” And even if the government were to take the research over, “business interests,” aka greed will still horn in and try to take it over, such as the fight over “net neutrality” that is current.

        On Sat, Sep 8, 2018 at 10:44 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


        Liked by 4 people

        Comment by Steve Ruis — September 8, 2018 @ 10:49 am | Reply

      • Vic Grout. I read your articles and they are great and insightful

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Jonathan — September 8, 2018 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

  3. I have always believed in the power of the collective workers. The poor conditions of workers spawned the union movements around 1800’s in the industrial towns of northern England. Times were tougher then and they managed to obtain results even though it created conflict and often death, and I guess what I am saying is there appears to be no other way but to bring back trade union muscle especially if no government is willing to support the workers concerns.

    Jeff Bezos will pay whatever it takes to whoever to keep making his insane profits because he understands that without workers he is out of business, until of course AI can do everything that humans can do.

    Liked by 3 people

    Comment by sklyjd — September 9, 2018 @ 8:20 am | Reply

    • This thing I find puzzling is why Bezos would continue his draconian practices. He has 100+ billion dollars of wealth. To spend a billion dollars in a year, you have to spend $532,000 per work hour every working day of the year! What does he need so much money for? He can’t possible spend it to safeguard his or his families lifestyle. Greed is so perplexing. The effort and spent in expanding one’s wealth is effort and time one cannot spend pursuing other pursuits.

      On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 8:20 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 9, 2018 @ 8:26 am | Reply

      • If you’re a Prime member, you will or have already paid their increased annual fee. The usual rhetoric was offered as to the reason behind the increase, but IMO it was primarily to put more money in Bezo’s pocket … or possibly to help pay for the Mercedes-Benz delivery trucks!

        Personally, mine isn’t due yet and I’m seriously considering dropping it since the 2-day shipping is pretty much the only “perk” I take advantage of. Of course, my paltry $119 probably won’t make much difference, but in cases like this, it’s the principle.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Nan — September 9, 2018 @ 11:51 am | Reply

  4. This does worry me.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by john zande — September 9, 2018 @ 9:44 am | Reply

    • Yeah, it isn’t like they didn’t have enough weapons in the class war … and are winning already.

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 9, 2018 @ 9:46 am | Reply

      • And no one is held accountable because they’re only meeting “shareholders” expectations for growth.

        Liked by 3 people

        Comment by john zande — September 9, 2018 @ 10:18 am | Reply

        • And that is only a mechanism to keep their job (and now expand their own wealth). They really do not care about the shareholders.

          On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 10:18 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 2 people

          Comment by Steve Ruis — September 9, 2018 @ 10:20 am | Reply

          • You know what also worries me, the enormous tracks of land in Australia and South America being sold to wildly wealthy folk. The Bush’s, for example, bought 300,000 acres in Paraguay, smack bang over one of the largest fresh water springs in the world… and there’s a full military grade airstrip nearby.

            Liked by 3 people

            Comment by john zande — September 9, 2018 @ 10:29 am | Reply

  5. Yes, what sort of jobs will be left to we humans? I agree that it will be the government and the very rich who will control this new AI. It surely will not be for the benefit of the working class and the poor.
    Your post here recalled an old memory for me. A story by Arthur C. Clarke. I don’t remember the title of the story, but I am sure it was in a collection of short stories that he wrote. Somehow the spaceship these humans were on had a massive computer failure. If they could not get the coordinates right, they will crash into a nearby star. One of the crew had his great-great-great-great (I forget how many greats) grandfathers’ abacus. The entire crew tries to figure out how to use it. Of course they cannot use the ships’ computer to help. Just before it is too late, they do get it right and the ship and crew are safe. OK, happy ending aside, to me, many years ago, it told me we had best not rely too much on technology or computers to save us from whatever we get ourselves into. Mr. President, you and I are close in age, you must remember this from our youth; to err is human, to really screw up takes a computer.
    I’ll end with another dusty oldie; gigo; garbage in, garbage out.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — September 11, 2018 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

    • I have read a number of such stories. The most recent was the people on a generation ship forgot they were on a generation ship (war, disease all happened), but one member of the crew was taught to read by his father and found some journals that explained the mission of the ship. Of course they tried to kill him for his apostacy, that the ship was not the world entire … preposterous!

      Seems we have similar reading tastes, too. Won’t be long before the Trumpers decide one of us is redundant. (They tend to be big on things like surplus population … something that was the case on that generation star ship!)

      On Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 3:43 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 12, 2018 @ 9:26 am | Reply

  6. That was amazing and nicely brought out…it is true that these advancement ni machine intelligence will surely give a boon to or effieciency but will also distrupt human dignity and safety…
    I have also covered many points regarding artificial intelligence…kindly read share and give ur opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ritesh Pathak — December 18, 2018 @ 2:18 pm | Reply

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