[Following on the train of thought, re: totalizing effect of technology…]
One thing I noticed conspicuously absent in the knee-jerk online reactions against my AI books was any kind of greater self-conscious critique of technology.
Sure, I get that authors and artists and audiences have perhaps legitimate concerns about the proper use of AI – and that we need to talk about them. But to my mind it is woefully incomplete and more than a tad disingenuous to look around at the socio-technical landscape we live in, and simply land on “AI is bad,” without opening up the much more challenging issue of… hm, maybe technology is bad.
I don’t mean technology broadly in all its forms, but I do mean in many of the specific expressions of it we live under today, and consider totally “normal” and unchangeable, as though they were pre-destined by the gods on high, and not merely a matter of luck, timing, and circumstance (and therefore things that we could actively examine and choose to change).
The Unabomber is someone who went further down the “maybe its technology itself that’s bad” line of thinking. And look where he ended up. Not a lot of great outcomes there, and horrible methods. Interestingly, even he himself admitted that there was simply no escape from la Technique, to reference Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society – much of which the Unabomber’s manifesto was adapted from. He went off to hide himself in a cabin, but technology and society kept showing up even in the middle of nowhere. He could not escape it even on the margins. (And he proved Philip K. Dick’s axiom ultimately, that to fight the Empire is to become infected by its derangement.)
To my way of thinking, AI is just an extension of automation and algorithms. There’s nothing more mysterious about it than that.
But for all the malcontents spewing vitriol over a total stranger’s experiments with AI, none of them seemed to recognize that all social media is effectively controlled by AIs in the form of recommender engines, and other systems. AIs that control the direction of your attention, commanding effectively what you see, and consequently what you react to, and end up believing.
But noooooooo, that’s a level of discussion we don’t and cannot go to on social media (where we’re too busy chasing ‘likes’), because if we admitted AIs already control our attention and direct much of our behavior, then we would have to face some difficult and uncomfortable truths about the ubiquity of for profit automated systems’ control over society.
That’s what my books are about, that’s their purpose. To not stop with just AI, but to talk about the right use of *all* technology, and how it impacts us and all living things.
Of all of my AI books, probably the quasi-manifesto, Das Machina most directly relates to these themes. And it pairs well I think with what might be considered the AI counter-point to the arguments contained there, The Jealous Human.