A Closer Look at the AI Hype Machine: Who Really Benefits? – by Tom Valovic

The neoliberale turn of the 1980s and subsequently share holder ideology, the financialization of capitalism and the ideology of neo-proprietarism (Piketty) led to a level of global and national inequality that is similar to right before WWI. The radical inequality of today comes along with several theories of the end of capitalism, from the breakdown of the world-system (Wallerstein), because of ecological and/or economic collapse, to techno-feudalism (Varoufakis), all of them distopic and not at all empowering for those of us who would like humanity to prosper in peace and harmony. The AI challenge will change our world in yet unpredictable ways but it will neither be our new friendly colleague at work nor a tool to end inequality and it’s inherent social and political tourmoils. The introduction of the steam engine did not lead to a more pleasant working experience but to a subjugation of workers to the rhythm of machines. Why? Because the use of steam in the production of goods took place under capitalist conditions, isn’t it. I expect something similar for AI.
Nevertheless I always wonder why the fact of the radical concentration of financial, epistemic and technological power is ascribed to a fictional “global elite.” Without any doubt the empirical evidence is that the seclusion of social classes in the so called developed world has reached almost unprecedented levels today since the introduction of the capitalist mode of production. It is also well established in social sciences that the richest 1%, even much more so the riches 0,1 per cent, destroy our environment 9 times more than the average European, and have indirect political power without any legitimicy (e.g. Piketty or Milanović). It is also true that the gender gap of income and assets is bigger the richer you are. Still research shows that these elites are still national elites not global ones. Their connections are very limited, they do not go to the same schools, and most of these people do not even have spent at least 6 month in a row abroad. This is especially true for US and Chinese Elites. The German sociologist Michael Hartmann did intense quantitative and qualitative research elites for 30 years and this is what he concludes. The super rich, and the “techno elites” might have created a public image of anti-national cosmopolitan super rich and creative decision makers. The fact is they are in many respects stubbornly nationalistic, ill educated heirs, who managed to transfer even more public money towards them by private debts, government subsidies and low wages. At least in democracies all this is made possible by voted politicians who made decisions against the majority of the populace. Those who still adhere to the liberal fairy tale that taking from the poor and serving the rich is smart economic and financial policy. These politians are even less global. They are national to the core. If they can exercise power internationally, then only for nationalist ends, actually most of the time serving directly their own national capitalist class. The talk about “global elites” is misleading. It is the straw man of the populist right and parts of the left that contributes to a great confusion about who the profeteers of radical inequality are.
I must admit that regarding transhumanism I am not so confident in my opinions. I think transhumanist visions exist among some of the national elites as well as among all other sections of society, among members of all classes. This is at least my own subjective perception. I might be wrong. And I might underestimate the degree to which these ideas are promoted in an organized way. BTW, why is Yuval Noah Harari a promoter of transhumanism in much of anti-transhumanism writing? I am not an expert on his work but he seems to constantly warn about these developments and especially about the antidemocratic potentials it entails. On top of it he is a long time and serious Vipassana mediator in the tradition of S. N. Goenka. Of course this tradition is not related to western humanism but definitively a practical teaching to promote love and peace among all living beings. Why the focus on him? Maybe he also serves as a popular aim, a cosmopolitan intellectual who even dares to speak in Davos… I don’t get it.

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