The sun leans on the mountain
The Yellow River spreads out to the sea.
To see further, climb up higher
– Chinese Tang dynasty poem
The Capitalist World Crisis, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of things, the Working Class, and Socialism
by Eric Sommer
Humanitie’s productive forces have increased enormously since the industrial revolution began 220 years ago. But the capitalist system within which these productive forces have developed is incapable of handling them effectively. Out-of-control wars, growing impoverishment, climate disasters, pandemics, and the danger of uncontrollable artificial intelligence systems bedevil our world.
These are global problems and threats to our existence. They cannot be eliminated or handled by a capitalist system based on different capitalist nation state governments, and different corporations competing with each other for profit.
The competitive capitalist class which sits atop this system is organically incapable of the necessary global co-operation, planning, anc co-ordination to address these global problems.
Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things
Amid the current threats to our existence is the uncontrolled development of artificial intelligence. Global capital is restructuring based on digitizing and integrating AI into all aspects of economy, society, and personal life but has no means to control it.
The internet is morphing into the ‘internet of things’ (IOT) which increasingly includes artificial intelligence (AI). Five billion people and 20 billion entities of all types are already online and interconnecting and ‘interacting with each other’and with AI’s with 500 billion projected to do so within the next five years.
Governments, corporations, militarism, education, health care systems, cities, buildings, factories, stores, offices, science labs, vehicles, farms and farm animals, robots, machines and devices of all kinds are going online and relying on internet technologies and increasingly on artificial intelligence.
These connected objects live simultaneously in both the physical world and the internet and AI world. They interact with their physical surroundings through sensors and ‘actionators’, and they talk with other online cyber objects including people in a networked world nexus.
Every worker – and the entire world working class – is also compelled to function within and as part of the IOT and increasingly within artificial intelligence. A new human type – the cyberhuman – emerges as workers must interact simultaneously with the digital world and the physical world around them, on pain of isolation and irrelevance if they do not
The arrival of digital AI on our planet is arguably one of the most important event in the history of human beings on this planet. Until now we were without doubt the most intelligent creatures on the Earth. But AI is nothing less than the arrival in the world of an alien intelligence, one not like us but able to simulate our level of intelligence and quickly pass beyond it.
Already employed from factories to self-driving cars to online marketing to medical diagnosis, AI is now developing rapidly in publicly-accessible forms. It is integrating into every area of daily life and work involving mental or intellectual activity.
(1) Publicly-accessable AI’s can now attain scores as high as 155 in standard IQ tests, placing their intelligence above 99.9 percent of human beings.(1) They also attain high test scores in academic fields from chemistry to math to history to law, and without previous specialized discipline-specific training. Moreover, fine-tuning for a specific discipline or skill-set can raise the level of an AI’s abilities to that of a human professional.
Post-labour Economics: (2)
In their competitive struggle for profit individual capitalist enterprises must pay for labour time and strive to reduce it to the minimum Telephone operators were therefore replaced by automatic switches; secretaries by word processors; and farm laborers and farmers by tractors and farm equipment. Artificial intelligence takes this process to a qualitatively higher level.
Historically, labour-replacement by mechanization allowed workers displaced from one sector to move, albeit painfully, into another new sector. But when the specialized technologies of the past are supplanted or replaced by AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) and by general purpose robots infused with AGI, new economic sectors are automated as they are born.
In each work sector AI integration takes place in three stages – little or no use of AI, use of AI to supplement or render more efficient existing forms of human labour, and replacement of that human labour by Al.
This generalized ability to eliminate human labour across the board spells the end of wage-labour and therefore capitalism’s end..For capitalism is in essence nothing but the exploitation for profit of socially-integrated human economic labour which now progressively disappears
The Social Impact of AI and digitalization
Most of us grew up living in the social world and social categories created by the results of the second or industrial revolution. This is the capitalist mode of production which includes jobs, businesses, corporations, entrepreneurs, mass education schools, and separate nation states governed separately by individual governments.
It’s hard to realize that these currently dominant socioeconomic categories began their ascent only about 200 years ago with the industrial revolution which began in England about 1800 AD.
Before the Industrial Revolution most human beings lived in a different world dominated by kings, nobles, religions, and large and small ‘landlords’ and the ‘serfs’ who lived on the land and worked the landlords land.
But in just 180 years, the second or industrial revolution had radically transformed people’s lives. Jobs and specialized skill sets had become the center of almost all people’s lives in the so-called developed countries and an increasing number in the rest of the world as well.
But these social categories of the capitalist epoch are destined to be ultimately swept away by the artificial intelligence epoch, just as the categories of the previous agricultural societies were swept away by the capitalist epoch.
The immediate social impact of this process of reducing socially necessary labour time towards zero can be reduced to this: Under capitalist private ownership of the means of production, generalized labour substitution by artificial intelligence and other automation technologies is a curse. For as one job-type and sector after another disappears, workers become unable to survive under the obsolete capitalist system. The only conceivable solution to this problem is conversion from nation-state capitalism to global social ownership of the digital/AI-based economy.
As David North, chairman of the international committee of the fourth international has said: “Nationalism is a perspective that has been superseded by the global development of the productive forces and the internationalization of the class struggle. The nation-state as a vehicle for the progressive development of humanity is over. The survival of civilization is now bound up entirely with the overthrow of capitalism and the nation-state system and the transition to a world socialist federation.” (3)
(1) Eka Roivaianen ‘I Gave ChatGPt an IQ Test. Here’s What I Discovered’, Scientific American Journal, March 28, 2023, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/i-gave-chatgpt-an-iq-test-heres-what-i-discovered/
(2) I am indebted to the work of artificial intelligence expert David Sinclair whose writings clarified the unstoppable AI-driven drive towards a zero-labour economy and who coined the phrase ‘Post-labor Economics’ to summarize it. We may differ inasmuch as he situates this development within the confines of the capitalist system, whereas I demonstrate here that this framework cannot survive artificial intelligence. David Sinclair, ‘What is “Post-Labor Economics”? A Gentle Introduction’, Medium.com Aug. 31, 2023, https://medium.com/@dave-shap/what-is-post-labor-economics-a-gentle-introduction-81aa265abbe0
(3)I am indebted not only to David North for this quote but to the whole international committee of the fourth international and its’ ‘World Socialist Website’ for its’ unmatched reporting and analysis of world conditions from the standpoint of the international working class. My understanding of the world we live in – and the analysis in this article – would not have been possible without their work.