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Computing Power

There are plenty of books and images from the seventies about the dreadful, spidery mother computer. A central power unfathomable for humans. This vision became a laughing matter once personal computers arrived on every desk; even more so when FOSS (open source) grew strong and we gained even more control over our own tools. But the laughter turned cold now that we’re under the cloud.

Large neural networks and AI can do things that personal computers can’t even dream about, like translation. Google Translate has a way to go, but it’s not just processing power that makes it hard to compete with it. It has an even bigger advantage: data. Information, texts in various languages. A simple wordlist isn’t enough to make a good translationprogram. You need massive amounts of texts in various languages. The access of texts to that extent is currently centralized how a couple of giants. Google, Amazon, Facebook.

If you know how neural networks are made, it’s easy to sigh or smile at articles that see AI as some sort of latter-day Pinocchio that can “wake up” and “think” and be malicious or incromprehensible and take over and be dangerous. Well, sure, but that’s not the most urgent problem at hand right now. We stand before a centralization of the means of production that makes the industrial revolution in the 1760:s look like a lol.

Technological unemployment

There’s a recording of Amelia Earhart from 1935 where she says something so clearly apparent but where we see so little actually being done to adress it. “Obviously, research regarding technological unemployment is as vital today as further refinement or production of labor saving and comfort giving devices.”

As a patch: shorter work weeks, basic income. In the long run: maybe a total change in how we humans distribute resources as well as work tasks among ourselves. We might need to go from a scarcity-based quid-pro-quo economy when we have so much automatisation. We should have easy living when we have the robots helping us. Instead it’s horrible. Stressful and precarious. We have a generation where having a stable income is incredibly rare. Everything is just tryouts and temp jobs and bullshit.

Centralized power

Means of production is power, under capitalism. You can’t vote away Google, or even affect them to any particular degree, with votes. We’ve also seen how clumsy things can get when the parlament does step in: the annoying popup with “you’ve got to accept cookies OK?” that every web site has since an EU decision that’s only making our lives worse. What we wanted was to stop the ad network’s cross-site tracking and what we got was a fucking popup and an OK and then no difference to what we had before.

In spite of all that, we’re not going to give up. There’s no alternative. It’s democracy vs capital, right now. A capital that tempts us and frogboils us with comforts and connections. It’s so warm and nice in the water.

Obviously

All this seems so obvious to me, but we don’t see anyone working on it. Human interaction, resource distribution, and task assignment is protocol based. Can’t AI help us invent a better one? AI is the threat, but they can also be the help; help us create a system where we can save the Earth from catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and break free from the giant networks of Google, Amazon and Facebook. Or I dunno we could also do some old-fashioned thinking!