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The Threat of Artificial Superintelligence

The development of artificial superintelligence (ASI) brings with it both great promise and great risk for humanity. This post explores the threats that unchecked ASI poses in concentrating power and wealth, as well as the need for deliberate governance and democratisation of this technology to harness its benefits for the global public good.

The advent of artificial superintelligence (ASI) holds both utopian promise and dystopian peril for humanity. ASI possesses unmatched potential to solve complex challenges like disease, hunger, and environmental destruction if carefully directed for the benefit of all. However, the development of superintelligent machines solely to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the plutocratic class poses grave economic and political dangers.

“The advent of artificial superintelligence (ASI) holds both utopian promise and dystopian peril for humanity.

The Promise and Peril of Artificial Superintelligence

Influential figures like Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang have argued that nations should develop their own sovereign AI capabilities tailored to their cultures, languages, and economic strengths. However, we must scrutinise the profit motives underlying such visions. Developing robust sovereign AI requires an enormous amount of computing power and chips—precisely the hardware Nvidia provides. By advocating for national AI projects, tech giants stand to gain financially as demand grows for the infrastructure and components powering intelligent systems. Sovereign AI risks entrenching corporate oligarchic interests behind a veneer of nationalism rather than fundamentally democratising the ownership and control of emerging technologies’ immense productive capacities.

“By advocating for national AI projects, tech giants stand to gain financially as demand grows for the infrastructure and components powering intelligent systems.

Marxist theory is deeply concerned with how new technologies throughout history have challenged or reinforced dominant power structures. Marx questioned how industrial innovations initially benefited only capitalists rather than ordinary workers. When it comes to ASI, the means of production will increasingly take the form of automated intelligent systems that risk displacing human jobs and livelihoods en masse while concentrating economic gains in an elite capitalist class—what Marx termed “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”

State deployment of sovereign AI for security and surveillance also threatens civil liberties and human dignity. And algorithms optimised for efficiency and corporate profits already exhibit racial, gender, and ideological biases that could become further entrenched at superhuman intelligence levels. Utopian outcomes require global cooperation and the explicit design of ASI to benefit all people, not just privileged owners and shareholders.

Marx and other Left thinkers highlight capitalism’s inherent tendency towards exploitation, inequality, and concentration of power in the hands of property owners. While sovereign AI may curb corporate dominance, on its own, it cannot resolve the deeper systemic issues which surface as emerging technologies outpace government policy. Without a simultaneous transition to a more egalitarian economic model, automation by ASI still threatens to displace jobs and bolster inequality on a massive scale, even if it is publicly owned.

Safeguarding requires technological progress rooted in solidarity across borders, not nationalism, designed explicitly to empower ordinary people rather than states or oligarchs alone. The questions of who owns superintelligent systems, who governs their development, whose interests they serve, and how gains are distributed remain integral. Shared well-being can only be achieved by democratising control over intelligent machines and their immense productivity gains, as complex decisions increasingly migrate beyond human oversight.

“The questions of who owns superintelligent systems, who governs their development, whose interests they serve, and how gains are distributed remain integral.

Ownership and Control

Artificial superintelligence poses profound risks beyond “just” worsening inequality if unleashed and maximised for efficiency or elite control alone. The integration of ASI into militarised systems threatens escalating conflicts and state oppression through unaccountable means. Meanwhile, capitalist interests could divert ASI technology away from sustainability, maximising fossil fuel profits while obstructing climate action. Similarly, automation risks heightened precarity and displacement of workers on a mass scale (surplus humanity) instead of supporting their livelihoods amidst transformation. These risks across domains like security, environment, and labour are interconnected at their core: the concentration of power and control in capitalist hands, now increasingly over intelligent systems enhancing their might.

Only through deliberate governance and design choices rooted in egalitarian ethics—harnessing ASI explicitly to empower society as a whole rather than further concentrate elite power—can these epochal innovations transcend their dual capacities for both unprecedented promise and unprecedented peril. Allowing a corporate-centred or nationalistic AI “arms race” entrenches the power of ruling class interests rather than serving the rest of humanity. Sovereignty itself guarantees no just outcomes — who owns and directs artificial superintelligence does. For artificial superintelligence to serve humanity’s interests rather than exacerbate inequality, governments must direct its development before unchecked corporate incentives further empower the tech bros of the billionaire class. Society faces a precarious inflection point: democratise ASI now, or risk losing the ability to meaningfully guide its momentous impacts as ethical complexities and computational capabilities increasingly outpace hindsight. Liberation requires not an abdication to fanciful tech solutionism, but ongoing struggle shaping tomorrow’s innovations. The window remains open for collective action. Where we go from here, and whether a more equitable world emerges, lies firmly in society’s hands.

“Society faces a precarious inflection point: democratise ASI now, or risk losing the ability to meaningfully guide its momentous impacts as ethical complexities and computational capabilities increasingly outpace hindsight.

The urgency and necessity are clear: if left unchecked, advanced intelligent systems risk becoming the ultimate amplifiers of present capitalist dominance. Only global cooperation and deliberate constraints created by ordinary people can lead ASI in non-exploitative directions, benefiting humanity as a whole. The choices societies make today will resonate for generations.

Governing ASI for the Public Good

The militarisation of ASI poses grave societal risks. As weapons systems and strategic decision-making integrate superintelligent capabilities, the risks of uncontrolled escalation or access restricted to elite groups within national security apparatuses grow. Autonomous systems optimising military objectives could potentially contravene international wartime conventions or enact lethal force at computerised speeds incompatible with human deliberation. Transferring violent capacities to intelligent machines does not abolish oppression; it only concentrates violence in the hands of ruling classes through new means. Without explicit governance for peace, advanced militaries ultimately serve capitalist-imperialist ends rather than global solidarity.

Rapid climate change also showcases capitalism’s exploitations manifested through Earth itself—what John Bellamy Foster termed “a irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism.” ASI’s unprecedented predictive and intervention capabilities hold promise for decarbonisation and environmental restoration if focused expressly on those outcomes. But the profit-above-all ethos of powerful corporate interests fixated on returns for shareholders has time and again derailed progress on climate initiatives. Intelligent systems owned by transnational corporations and lobbied just for their interests will only render environmental externalisation. Contrary to sustainability, they risk being deployed mainly to expand fossil fuel extraction, open markets, and reinforce consumption-driven economic growth, benefiting elites and further damaging the environment.

Finally, workers face ever-greater precarity as automation and intelligent systems transform the economy. Although automation and intelligent systems have the potential to improve material conditions, without a transition to reduce exploitation, their implementation will necessitate alternative economic frameworks that go beyond unchecked corporate capitalism as well as isolated nationalist responses. Power dynamics must change from capitalists owning these technologies to the workers impacted by them, which can be achieved through policy interventions that democratise control over production.

“Power dynamics must change from capitalists owning these technologies to the workers impacted by them, which can be achieved through policy interventions that democratise control over production.

The interlinked risks spanning the military, climate, and labor spheres demonstrate why governing artificial superintelligence must prioritsze social good over profit through international cooperation. Sovereign AI by itself cannot resolve the systemic issues raised by intelligent systems according to Marxist analysis without concerted, holistic efforts aimed at countering the concentration of power and distribution of gains favoring the tech elite. The threats remain grave across multiple fronts However, ASI also holds great promise if directed towards equitable ends.

The risks of unconstrained ASI are multifaceted. Climate disasters, autonomous weapons systems, and widespread automation-driven job losses share common roots in profit-driven modes of production uncontrolled by ordinary people. Contrary to corporate messaging, these dangers cannot be resolved solely by further technological progress itself. Rather, solutions require democratising who owns and governs intelligent systems explicitly for progressive ends benefiting all global citizens. ASI’s promise outweighs the risks only if people collectively challenge economic and social regimes, concentrating control through new means. Technological change alone does not drive equality; people do through struggle. Avoiding a dystopian future requires such activism now, not after deployment.

“Technological change alone does not drive equality; people do through struggle. Avoiding a dystopian future requires such activism now, not after deployment.

Steering ASI’s Development

ASI holds both unprecedented peril and promise, depending on its implementation and governance. Sovereign AI alone cannot sufficiently counteract risks; intelligent systems may concentrate power as productive capacities eclipse human capabilities across more domains. Handled improperly, these technologies may reinforce capitalism’s worst structural inequalities through new means. But handled judiciously with public good prioritised over profits, advanced intelligence could help transcend economic exploitation and enhance pluralistic liberty and prosperity for all global citizens. The outcome remains uncertain, but continued struggle can help steer these epochal innovations towards a better tomorrow.

“Handled improperly, these technologies may reinforce capitalism’s worst structural inequalities through new means.


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