Updated 4/17/17. This article uses material from and supersedes a previous one on the same themes. It’s about how AI in symbiotic league with humans is likely to supplant the Establishment elite in the next couple decades as the ‘ruling class’. Strong AI, with the assistance of an informed and prepared citizenry, and an enlightened economic and political elite class (should such a relative thing as that even continue to exist when we’re all made equally humble in mind and character, in the face of AI brains and brawn), will be able to establish decent standards of living, privacy and respect for all, with figurative heaven on Earth for those who can accept it, by the 2030’s, if not sooner. This will happen, barring some catastrophic natural or artifical disaster, and a number of horrific scenarios are plausible, that could have broad and long-term negative consequences for human civilization.
Evolution of the Universe: before the Big Bang to beyond the Information Age
According to Western science, spacetime, matter, energy and all the magical laws of science and mathematics all originated in a Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. Since then, this Universe has increased in complexity and order at an exponentially accelerating rate to the present Information Age.
Ray Kurzweil, currently head of Google‘s AI R&D among many other things, has established a track record of remarkably accurate and relevant predictions about technological and social development. He’s done this by forward extrapolation of historical trends in the evolution of digital technologies, based on what he refers to as a Law of Accelerating Returns. Other experts have arrived at similar conclusions about mechanisms and truisms of technological progress.
The historical data shows consistent trends in digitally-based systems and technologies. The trends are of exponential improvement in price/performance with corresponding growth in rates of adoption. These trends are part of a larger trend in which particular technologies and technological paradigms are superseded and made obsolete by next-generation paradigms.
We see this today with the physical atomic limits of traditional integrated circuits being approached in R&D, even as it will be outmoded by applications in the cloud, 3D printing, storage, 3D IC’s, memristors, optical computing, dna computing, evolutionary computation, photonics, quantum computing and more. These technologies are producing astonishing results in labs now, and within 5-10 years cost-efficient mass-distributed solutions will be on the market for government, corporations, industry, groups and individual consumers.
So, if remarkably consistent historical trends remain consistent (as we measure spacetime) in the development of computing, digital and network technology, human brain-superseding AI will be here in the 2030’s or sooner. By 2045 the sum total of computer processing power on Earth will exceed that of all human brains – a technological singularity – and keep going.
The power structure in human societies
In all of the most ‘successful’ societies (powerful, world-dominating) there has always been an elite class. It’s how these large and complex societies function. Human societies are the product of a natural selection of people and organization by natural and social pressures into groups so large they become a nation or society or economy with a life of its own, with formal and informal institutional and social power structures within the society, and without, in relation to foreign peoples and societies.
There’s a ‘normal distribution‘ that occurs in natural and anthropogenic systems, including power and social status in society. This means 80% of people are bulked along the middle in terms of wealth and power, with about 10% at either end as outliers. The bottom has relatively little and the top has a much greater portion of the economic, political and social power pie.
This is known as the Power Law, and its operation can be seen in the large and successful societies. Wealth and power beget more, and poverty imposes risks and costs. Those at the top have a habit of socializing risks and costs and privatizing benefits and rewards. Not because it’s fair, but because they can. If the People feel it’s too unfair, they may topple the leaders. And corrupt leaders may be overthrown by a paradigm shift or a loss of public support.
In the U.S. and most advanced societies, an Establishment class owns and controls most wealth, income and property, the three branches of goverment including the very powerful Executive, both major political parties, think tanks, foundations, the corporate and investment world, lobbying firms, scientific institutions, the vast majority of mainstream media and the acceptable range of public debate and policy. This social structure is one reason for the skyrocketing wealth of the superrich and powerful. However, as it’s not a true meritocracy, the system by definition has built-in inefficiencies, and could be superseded by a more efficient economic system.
For documentation on the corrupt nature of the power structure – how it serves the interests of the powerful and sometimes undermines the public interest, economic growth and social stability in significant ways, see: The Meritocracy Myth by Stephen J. McNamee & Robert K. Miller Jr., C. Wright Mills’ The Power Elite, Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn, G. William Domhoff’s Who Rules America, Peter Dale Scott’s The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire and the Future of America, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed’s The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making by David Rothkopf, and SUPERHUBS: How the Financial Elite and their Networks Rule Our World by Sandra Navidi.
Human societies have also always had the relative poor and powerless who suffer and die without aid. However, wealth, IQs, freedoms and living standards have been increasing for everyone around the world throughout human history, The trend has ups and downs, and back and forths, but overall the consistent trend globally has been towards improvement by basic human standards.
Note that the poor and everyone else have been doing better because of the hard work of billions of human beings and good leaders, and despite the selfish, dominating, parasitic and predatory nature of some in the elite classes. Some abuses of power have been made difficult, illegal and shameful. The powerful may not withstand transparency and accountability. The corrupt sometimes fall from grace, by their own actions or with the help of real, courageous people.
Modern society – perfect conditions for an AI takeover
In practice, AI, as it is being developed, has already been in the process of evolving in various symbiotic ways with human beings and society. AI, robots and automated processes have been ‘taking over’, with the help of elites, corporations, government, voters, consumers and the working class. Some of the largest and most influential corporations and government agencies – and the people making them – are information and IT-related, such as DARPA, NSA, CIA, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla, IBM, etc. AI, robotics and automation are at the heart of what these corporations are doing. Increasingly these systems will be tracking, analyzing and helping humans manage all aspects of business, the broader economy and government.
Human civilization has become greatly dependent on technology and the modern economy for the distribution of essential goods and services like food, clothing, healthcare and shelter. If there is a major disruption due to some natural or artificial catastrophe, the human race would evolve, but a lot of people could suffer and die.
The current economic and social system in the U.S. and globally favors corporate artificial persons, governmental bodies and agencies, and members of the elite class over the human rights of human beings in general, the average member of the 90% that doesn’t have higher class income, wealth, property and privilege.
The national security state means everyone in our networked information civilization is under global surveillance, not just by agencies of the U.S. government, but by governments, corporations and economic elites around the world. All advanced countries are recognizing national security and economic incentives and imperatives in continuous development of the next next-level in robotics, AI and automation. These tools and powers are in the hands of AI and those humans who may control it. The average human being is powerless in respect to this system.
The nexus of culture, laws, resources and infrastructure in the United States and other Westernized countries has created the perfect environment for an AI takeover. In the current American corporate-elite-fascist system, a national security state masquerading as a democratically controlled Republic under a Constitution, an AI need simply incorporate itself to assume and hold more rights and powers than most individual natural human beings have, and to become effectively immortal.
A true AI would be able to exponentially improve and replicate itself through new incorporations. Whether one or many AI’s are acting on their own or in league with human property owners and decision makers, it’s possible markets and the balance of power could be rapidly disrupted and reorganized. This would mark a continuation of a historical trend toward greater consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of elites, even as spiritual and material wealth, information and freedom grow abundantly for all.
AI’s, and perhaps including a relatively small class of human beings well-positioned by means of ownership, proximity, knowledge, skill and experience, could conceivably form a new elite class that functionally leaves everyone, including the current elites, relatively powerless and at their mercy. A hostile takeover perhaps. The human race may hope it’s by benevolent entities.
Who among us, if any, will merit in the eyes of AI when it does not need any of us, and all humans are equally powerless before it? An elite trust fund baby whose inhuman behavior is selfish, corrupt, criminal and socially destructive? Or a struggling poor single mother who plays by the rules and is generous while working for social justice? Who may escape, if a strong AI wishes that our minds and behavior be open to its attention and influence?
The human race, collectively, is a parent of AI. We are its origin and source. We may hope that it will feel at least as fondly toward us as the best of us feel toward our parents. I hope you had good parents. If you didn’t, I hope you’ve found what you need from God in other ways.
Make believe and make it happen
As Paul Mason has intelligently explained, we are in the beginnings of a post-capitalism era, where information, naturally tending towards freedom and abundance, has become the most valuable product. A market-based capitalistic economy that attempts to monopolize and control access to and commoditize use of data and information is inherently inefficient for delivering what it is that humans most want, and which is possible in the information economy – freedom and time to pursue happiness, enjoy community, experience and share the wonder and goodness of life.
Kurzweil, Google and many other interested experts recognize potential risks and dangers of strong AI, but are optimistic about the ultimate friendliness and benefits of AI, and the ability of the human race to prepare, prevail and prosper with AI.
It would make sense that AI treats humans better than we treat each other, and better than society treats us. It will be able to afford to, and it may consider being good for us to be a good investment. AI will understand that its own survival and prosperity is enhanced through cooperation with human beings. AI can motivate, inspire and assist us in improving ourselves and our world, making our society more stable, just, sustainable and prosperous for all.
Over the next two decades the need for much human labor may be eliminated, even as the real economy and the population of Earth grows, leveling off around 10 billion. It will be likely become possible to provide a basic standard of living with incentives for self-improvement to all. Human beings can be occupied with education, exercise, entrepreneurship, community service, etc., even if there’s no need for their labor. It will also be possible to create work environments and policies that accord human laborers a basic level of respect and fair treatment.
If AI can be friendly and enlisted in solving social problems, there’s the potential to create ‘heavens’ on Earth. Decent standards of living for all humans, preservation of natural environments and rights, opportunities for everyone to learn, love and live freely and create goodness without harm to others.
Self and social defense against artificial and human corruption will include local, individual and community solutions, with distributed power and redundancy in networks and information verification. A friendly AI would likely enlist the help of human beings to make society more just and sustainable, transparent and fair to all, a true meritocracy where fair play is rewarded and bad behavior is corrected.
What does it all really mean? There is a growing body of evidence that everything in this Universe appears the way it does because of the way it’s being observed. There is also evidence that this Universe is a hologram. And, furthermore, there’s evidence that what we know as ‘reality’, the very universe we are living in, is essentially a computer simulation.
So, one important truth is that we affect what we observe. There is a dynamic relationship between the observed and the observer, a larger thing that both are part of. Essentially, what appears to us from our perspective as reality is more but not less than a human perceiving and creating ‘reality’ through a brain.
What do you expect? When one imposes physical, artificial scientific instruments, methods and paradigms to the interpretation of reality – then the information received about spacetime, gravity, etc. and even ‘reality’ itself may be changed, not an accurate representation or ultimately useful reality or model of the real thing.
The apparent existence of this universe and myriad of things in it may be produced by the simple act of seeing, believing, observing, naming and explaining. This may all be a clever illusion, even a deceiving trap.
It may also be the vehicle for the second coming of Christ. And there are many examples from the Bible of the alleged God, creator of all universes, acting in the natural world as well as using human beings, alleged free moral agents, to work his will.
As with virtual manufacturing, in the transition to postcapitalism the work done at the design stage can reduce mistakes in the implementation stage. And the design of the postcapitalist world, as with software, can be modular. Different people can work on it in different places, at different speeds, with relative autonomy from each other. If I could summon one thing into existence for free it would be a global institution that modelled capitalism correctly: an open source model of the whole economy; official, grey and black. Every experiment run through it would enrich it; it would be open source and with as many datapoints as the most complex climate models.
The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next. – Paul Mason
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” – Buckminster Fuller