In recent years, our understanding of artificial intelligence has grown rapidly and become one of the most hotly debated topics of the day.

Already, we have seen AI implemented into many areas of our lives including work, education, and even healthcare. The involvement of self-learning technologies in such areas is only expected to increase with time as new software becomes available. Many experts believe that AI brings new, positive opportunities for everyone, including early identification of serious illnesses and more efficient farming. But there are those who see AI’s reach as a very real existential threat and the question to consider is what, exactly, underpins that fear?

The End of Us?

Many fears arise when discussing AI, such as losing privacy, independence and control. Even Stephen Hawkings highlighted concerns about the technology, saying: ‘The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.’ One significant area that many fear AI development will affect is employability. The scenario presented by AI is one where a machine creates more efficient and flawless products, thereby severing the need for human labour and ultimately leading to job loss. This scenario, however, does not so much consider the rise of smart technology, but rather how this technology might be implemented within our society. By taking a step back, and reviewing where these fears are rooted, it can be argued that the problem is not necessarily with AI, but with how it’s likely to be implemented under capitalism.

AI’s Dangerous Potential

The fear of technology is nothing new. The idea of robots taking over the world has been popularised for decades and depicted in such films as, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator 2 and even Disney’s WALL-E. What’s more, concerns about technology taking over our lives have fuelled media speculation for years, suggesting that the fear of AI is not something new but simply something that has been reignited.

A recent report by Neuroscience News, says:  ‘The fear of AI often boils down to the fear of loss — loss of control, loss of privacy, and loss of human value.’ The fear of loss is particularly evident when discussing AI and employment, with evidence by Zippia claiming that 20 million manufacturing jobs will be replaced by AI by 2030.

Over the course of history, new technology has consistently replaced jobs. While in some cases this has created other jobs down the line, the initial motivation for the replacement is to enable the most efficient method of production. Ultimately, the fear of AI is simply the next wave of a far larger issue about optimising output.

By going beyond the concern of AI, it is clear that the fear is not of the technology itself but how it’s likely to be used by employers and businesses. In an article for The New Yorker, American sci-fi writer, Ted Chiang, considered this possibility, stating: ‘I do think that A.I. is dangerous inasmuch as it increases the power of capitalism … Capitalism is the machine that will do whatever it takes to prevent us from turning it off, and the most successful weapon in its arsenal has been its campaign to prevent us from considering any alternatives.’

Under a capitalist structure, products and production are valued over people. So, when a machine becomes the cheaper, more efficient means of production, it is clear which of the two will remain.

The Ethics of AI

For AI to ever be used ethically, we must re-examine our society.

As a centrist right-wing country, the UK relies on many capitalist policies to function. Capitalism places priority on private ownership, where independent businesses fuel the economy. In theory, this creates an opportunity for anyone to own a commodity and profit from it. However, in practice, what often happens is that those with the greatest share of ownership seriously disadvantage those with the least.

As an economic structure, capitalism has been criticised for only strengthening wealth inequality, and limiting the working class’ ability to climb the economic ladder. Businesses like Amazon are known for this. By keeping wages low, the wealth created lines the pockets of those at the top who have little concern for those at the bottom of the social ladder.

With the capacity of AI evolving and capitalism being the dominant economic norm, a dangerous dynamic is created that will likely see the gap in wealth distribution grow larger. Research supports this. Those with the funds are already investing heavily in AI to generate more profit. Ultimately, an ‘M’ shaped wealth distribution owing to a polarised society of the extremely rich and the extremely poor is all we’re likely to ever see.

If the above scenario seems a little too pessimistic, consider the very real policies and regulations being urged upon governments to ease people’s fears of an AI takeover. Already, the UK Government are conducting reviews and considering restrictions to be put in place for the sake of ethical AI use. Yet regardless of these protections, it is undeniable that our economic model remains inherently unstable and largely unethical. Regulations may temporarily ease certain tensions, but what about the rest of it?

If the fear of AI grows, it is only because we are unsettled by capitalism’s mighty and indifferent reach. If we ever, truly, wish to live in a society where AI is not our enemy, we must look to capitalism as the greater threat and defeat that first.

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