The AI-Enabled Internet is a Tool for Propaganda, Social Division, Identity Intimidation, and the Destruction of Intelligent Social Discourse

Facebook’s former vice president for user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, has stated that he feels “tremendous guilt” about Facebook. Palihapitiya explains: “[W]e have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created [including the hearts, likes, and thumbs up of various social media channels] are destroying how society works.” He added, “[There’s] no civil discourse, no cooperation; [only] misinformation, mistruth.”1

The disintegration in community we are experiencing is being driven to significant degrees by the combination of the Internet and Artificial Intelligence systems.  AI-facilitated social media has intensified and accelerated the disintegration of our social forms.  Governmental and private sector surveillance and privacy breaches made possible through AI and the Internet have created a culture of intrusion, manipulation, misrepresentation, conflict and lying. 

Tim Berners-Lee, considered by many to be the “Father of the Internet”, has voiced his great dismay about how his invention has devolved.

“For the first 15 years, most people just expected the web to do great things. They thought ‘there’ll be good and bad, that is humanity, but if you connect humanity with technology, great things will happen….  What could go wrong? Well, duh: all kinds of things have gone wrong since. We have fake news, we have problems with privacy, we have problems with abuse of personal data, we have people being profiled in a way that they can be manipulated by clever ads.” 2  

Rather than narrowing, the gap between our increasingly complex world and the quality of our social and intellectual understanding of that world grows steadily wider.  The rapidly spreading inability to communicate substantively and thoughtfully with each other as opposed to shouting enraged vitriol makes serious analysis increasingly useless and the best efforts to “talk things out” in search of reasonable compromises impossibly unproductive.  

The result is that we are “preaching to our choir” and denigrating the positions of all others.  If we don’t “sing the same hymns” no one outside our own group’s ideological context is even listening.  Even if the “others” hear the words being written or spoken they are unable to understand or appreciate what others not of their specific identity group are saying.  This is due to the effects of confirmation bias, propaganda, rising individual and group ignorance, and interest group agendas that act as barriers to understanding.  The tragic result is that we have become splintered people in fragmented societies.   This makes us highly vulnerable to the actions of true believers, fanatics, ideologues, and almost anyone who offers us certainty in a confusing and frightening world. 

The Intelligentsia’s Betrayal of Their Social Duty

Today’s intellectuals—to the extent anyone actually deserves that label—are virtually all “attached” servants of power who have betrayed their purpose and identity.   This increasingly applies to journalists who are granted special Constitutional privileges so that they can bring us honest facts and unbiased analysis aimed at seeking truth through wisdom and fact.  Instead, far too many members of the “verbal” class have become sycophants politically attached to movements and in doing so betray their responsibility to seek truth.  This threatens the foundations of the ideals of free speech and inquiry that are the basis of their special privilege.  The same betrayal can be said of far too many university academics and “scholars” who are corrupting the university’s ideals of teaching and uncovering truth to each generation of our youth. 

Russell Jacoby, in The End of Utopia, notes that it is not only a problem of knowing what to communicate but being willing to accept the consequences of our communications should what we say is unpopular.  With all the claims by modern group-affiliated activists to be “speaking truth to power”, Jacoby describes our true situation as one in which if you write odes to the monarch, “you will be well received.  Enlighten men, and you will be crushed.”  He writes that Karl Mannheim used the concept of the “free-floating” intellectual during the 1920s to describe individuals of independent mind who possessed the courage to critique power wherever their journey led. In discussing the disappearance of the independent intellectual, Jacoby observes that: “Benda’s prescient Betrayal, which evoked the philosophes of the Enlightenment, might be seen as summarizing a tradition that was ending.3

Jacoby writes that even when first written: “Mannheim’s defense of independent intellectuals earned him the ire of both left and right.”  This outraged reaction is predictable.  Independent thinking and critique have always been a threat to the preservation and acquisition of power.  Honest critique shows the cracks and flaws in rhetoric and propaganda, and penetrates the illusions behind which power seeks to hide.  Jacoby goes on to argue that: “Since Mannheim, the structural shifts that affect intellectuals have become so obvious that few can deny them.  If Mannheim’s analysis of the “free-floating” intellectuals seemed questionable [even] in the late 1920s, almost 100 years later it is impossible.” 4 

One difference, however, is that we are not dealing with a traditional monolithic aristocracy in modern Western society but a kaleidoscopic tableaux of ideological groups seeking power for themselves and seeking to undermine and destroy anyone in their way.  The “monarchy” is now comprised of aggressive and colliding movements.  These movements are empowered by the Internet and AI as their primary tool of organizing.  The AI-enhanced Internet has become an intelligence gathering system that allows the tracking of “enemies” and a potent weapon for attacking those enemies through intimidation, threats, insults, lies and smears.  Anyone seen as an obstacle to a self-righteous and power seeking movement’s gain and use of power, or simply those who do not fully agree with identity and interest group agendas, falls into the category of adversary and must be attacked.

  1. Fast 12/11/17.
  2., “Sir Tim Berners-Lee launches ‘Magna Carta for the web’ to save internet from abuse”, Laurence Dodds, The Telegraph, 11/5/18.
  3. Russell Jacoby, The End of Utopia, 105.
  4. Jacoby, The End of Utopia, 110.

We Must Create Strategies to Protect Human Workers as an “Endangered Species”

Barnhizer the Elder: Our “bottom line” in The Artificial Intelligence Contagion is simple.  If we do not get a handle on the processes of change and make strong, fast and accurate decisions that at least slow or shape the transformation, then Western society as we know it is going to collapse. [BTY – or change irretrievably into a culture that will not support Western ideals such as democracy and the Rule of Law]. A mix of aggressive public and private initiatives are required to respond to the significant and growing challenges of AI/robotics.

We are experiencing quantum leaps in AI/robotics capabilities, including surveillance, military and weapons technologies, autonomous self-driving vehicles, massive job elimination, data management and privacy invasion, medical breakthroughs and even human augmentation through such things as implants, “add-ons” and the merging of people with AI and robotics. Science fiction has already become fact and the AI/robotic evolutionary process is accelerating beyond anyone’s control.  As this occurs it is transforming us as individuals, and our societies as collective entities. These changes are undermining democratic cultures and destroying jobs in extremely large numbers.  According to intellectual and business leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Yuval Noah Harari, Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark, Elon Musk and others, the rise of Artificial Intelligence accompanied by robotic systems could ultimately end up with the destruction of the human race.  Long before this happens, however, our cultures, societies, selves and political relationships will be altered profoundly in ways we are not prepared to adequately understand or cope.

There have been three major industrial revolutions before what some are now referring to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution being driven by AI/robotics. The first of the three revolutions harnessed steam power. The second was based on electricity. The third industrial revolution developed through electronics, computing power, and the Internet. In each of these previous industrial revolutions, the process took place relatively slowly compared to what we are now experiencing with the linking of Artificial Intelligence systems and robotics controlled and directed by AI. The first three industrial revolutions generated what was described by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter as “creative destruction” in which although significant economic and social turmoil occurred as the transformation unfolded, the eventual outcome was increased productivity, jobs, and wealth. Destroyed jobs were replaced by needs in other areas, often utilizing skill sets similar to those required in the lost jobs. 

With AI/robotics—the Fourth Industrial Revolution—destroyed employment is less likely to be replaced by new forms of work in sufficient numbers. In a 2013 study of the massive impacts of computerization on human jobs, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?Oxford economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne indicate that the AI/robotics shift is not like others we have experienced.  Unlike other economic transformations, there won’t be a significant employment recovery on the other side of the downturn.  They highlight this fact by observing: “This raises questions about: (a) the ability of human labour to win the race against technology by means of education; and (b) the potential extent of technological unemployment, as an increasing pace of technological progress will cause higher job turnover, resulting in a higher natural rate of unemployment.” [i]

The 2013 study by Frey and Osborne put probable US job loss by 2030 at 47 percent. No society is equipped to deal with such an economic nightmare.  This is particularly so in extraordinarily complex systems such as in the US and EU. Such systems have expensive subsidy and safety net obligations that cannot be met if predictions of job loss are anywhere close to being correct. The only rational answer is to develop policies and programs that prevent or at least mitigate the impending collapse of human employment.

Like Frey and Osborne, Howard Schneider concludes that what is occurring with AI/robotics is different from past economic revolutions. [ii]  In that regard, he asks: “has the nation’s ability to generate well-paying jobs in manufacturing and other sectors been fundamentally scarred by changes in the global economy that may predate the 2008-2009 economic crisis but were more starkly revealed in its aftermath?”[iii]

Schneider then goes on to indicate that, as observed by an Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President, we are facing something outside human experience.  The result of what is now occurring could be “a workforce based on large numbers of lower paid workers, with a few highly paid managers, professional and technology workers, and a permanent hollowing out of the middle class.[iv]There are numerous signs this radical transformation of work is real and accelerating.  The feared hollowing out of the middle class with former members of that socioeconomic niche sliding downward continues apace. Rolls Royce is cutting 4,000 middle management employees in addition to another 600 senior management workers cut loose only months ago.[v]  Citi Bank just announced that it was considering eliminating 10,000 “tech and ops” staff due to developments in AI and robots. Deutsche Bank already warned that half of its 90,000 employees could lose their jobs due to AI.[vi]  General Motors is following the same path and Ford just announced in May 2019 that it was cutting 7,000 jobs, 10% of its global managerial workforce.  

Tesla just announced it will cut 9% of its 40,000 worker staff and that those losing their jobs will be in salaried and management positions, not production.[vii]  China is in the process of eliminating 1.8 million jobs in its steel industry, shifting a significant part of its production activities to AI/robotics systems, and roboticizing significant parts of its higher tech production industries, cutting 40 to 50% of the workers in those sectors.  This pattern continues in many large companies.  Given that many production line workers have already been cut loose as companies adopt AI/robotics manufacturing systems, continuing improvements in AI systems have allowed manufacturing and service companies to eliminate substantial numbers of middle managers. The normally optimistic Jack Ma, the CEO of the Chinese technological giant Alibaba, recently stated that Artificial Intelligence will cause people more pain over the coming decades rather than bringing them happiness and a feeling of social and economic security.  Ma warns: “Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life. … Ma adds: “A key social conflict will be the rise of artificial intelligence and longer life expectancy, which will lead to an aging workforce fighting for fewer jobs.”[viii]

[i]  Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” 9/13/13.   

[ii] Joel Kotkin, “Today’s Tech Oligarchs Are Worse Than the Robber Barons”, 8/11/16. 

[iii]  Howard Schneider, “For largest U.S. companies, jobs growth has lagged profits, revenues”, Business News, 8/11/14.  

[iv]Schneider, “For largest U.S. companies, jobs growth has lagged profits, revenues”, Business News, id.  

[v]  “Rolls-Royce set to announce more than 4,000 job cuts: Aero-engine maker attempts to increase profits by losing middle-management posts”, Simon Goodley, 6/10/18.

[vi]  “10,000 jobs could be lost to robots says Citi”,6/12/18.  “US bank Citi has warned that it could shed half of its 20,000 tech and ops staff in the next five years due to the rise of robotics and automation.”

[vii] “Tesla to cut 9% of staff as Elon Musk’s electric car company seeks profitability: CEO says thousands of job losses are part of a ‘difficult, but necessary’ restructuring.”  Julie Carrie Wong, 6/12/18.

[viii]  “Alibaba founder Jack Ma: AI will cause people ‘more pain than happiness’:”, Olivia Solon, 4/24/17.