Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
“Hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable.”
— Elon Musk
Note that Musk does not say “inevitable” but rather “increasingly probable,” a probability in the hands of “biological boot loaders,” which means us.
And yet we proceed as if our humanity is destined to be nothing more than a pre-staging of the coming of AI, which will presumably “help define humanity” because we ” need AIs to tell us who we are.” (Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, 2017)
Although by definition it is fruitless to question inevitability, we should not abide
Is it inevitable that after a nine day strike teachers in West Virginia will still be making $10,000 a year less than the national average?
Where does the inevitability lie? Is it in the genes of the people, people I lived with and the students I taught in Mercer County, West Virginia in the mid-70s?
According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, West Virginia is the only state totally Appalachian cultural state, which, when you consider the longtime popular portrayal of Appalachian “culture,” may be yet another “reason” why it’s inevitable that teachers in this state should be treated as less worthy than teachers elsewhere.
The only thing that was inevitable to my neighbors and to the students I taught was what the Jesus of the New Testament announced and prophesied. Everything else was what a man and a woman made of themselves and for themselves.
But I wondered then if what is written in Matthew — “You always have the poor with you” — was a construction of yet another hyperreal inevitability, one whose reality we could “world” differently?
Now I live in the “Heartland,” rusted shut for the most part from sharing in the globalized free trade that President Trump is hoping tariffs will make even freer for Americans, the Devil take everyone else. What seems inevitable in the contretemps between Trump and the Free Traders is that capital will be the only thing that will remain free to roam globally to make more capital, the Devil take workers, consumers and the planet.
Here in the “Heartland,” I do not hear that Jesus announces the inevitable but rather technology does.
It’s inevitable therefore that regardless of the glimpses we are now getting of the dark underbelly of cybertech, from cyberspace to Smartphone, that we’re heading for a robotic/AI future. Unstoppable. No retreat. No brakes. We’ll pass inevitably through several more generations of Smartphones, each welcomed enthusiastically at a launch and numerous TED talks, on to handheld virtual reality devices and then on to frontal lobe implants of software that will enhance our everyday experiencing of the world.
I ask why we should acquiesce to the affirmation of inevitability regarding our robotic /AI future. Only those who are lined up to be the owners of all these machines preach inevitability. The advance of machines that invade and alter consciousness, that abort face time with the actual conditions of our lives and the planet itself, is an advance of an addiction, not any other kind of advance.
Indeed, the way we experience the world is already reflected in that world. The world we humans live in is what we have shaped, rather like the way a sculptor shapes a form out of stone. What Heidegger called “worlding” is a mediation of ourselves and what is not ourselves, the former driven it seems from the start to dominate, ignore or presume we are have a privilege position outside what we are always already within.
Thus, all notions of what is inevitable are our own creation, inevitability in the human life-world never determinate beyond life sustaining basic needs and death.
However, what pervades and persists as inevitable very much depends upon the disposition of power while acquiesce to these dispositions is the lot of the powerless.
The torturous grinding down of Eastern Ghouta is our own creation. The astounding condition in which three guys have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population is our own creation. The certifiable screwball in the White House is also our creation. We have “worlded” ourselves into a place that the planet, a victim of that process, can no longer tolerate.
We’ve gone down that path Baudrillard mapped in which simulacra replace what is real and an ensuing hyperreality is no more than a “desert of the real,” a place where simulacra are not required to resemble anything in the real world. It has turned out to be the perfect place to concoct stories of inevitability told by those who are protected by and profit by such stories.
Capital is already seeking escape to another Goldilocks planet. What seems inevitable here is that we humans will “world” any planet as we have this planet, leading to the same exploitation and toxification and new plans of escape to yet another planet.
We take ourselves with us wherever we go and the sad fact is that we have not educated ourselves in ways that are not destructive of the planet and ourselves. We have had time and resources to shape an understanding across enough of the populace so any politics appealing to the worst in our natures, appealing to the anger and hate of our reptilian brain, would be preempted.
We have not constructed a reality for ourselves in which this has happened because profit lies not in the protection, preservation and equitable distribution and use of the planet’s resources but in quite the opposite direction.
We are hooked, not liberated by those who implant seeds of inevitability in our minds and thereby harvest rich profits.
Replacing workers with robots releases workers into what we world as “leisure” but which actually has no worldly dimensions beyond a frightening shapelessness fronted by a six pack and football Sunday. Why would we acquiesce to the inevitability of becoming useless, being put out of work by machines that make a profit for the owners but not for ourselves?
Part of the way we go about shaping a hyperreality out of the realities of this planet has to do with viewing what is addictive as not only inevitable but also as glorious and right, objects and events of great beauty.
We anxiously wait for a new Steve Jobs clone to introduce the new version of some truly marvelous device. Our children watch us as we watch something in the palm of our hand, oblivious to everything including the child watching us. Michigan, my Heartland state, is one of the few states actually losing ground in third-grade reading levels.
It may be that a third grader will become literate by surfing at will, a three grade will, his or her own handheld device but there’s a better chance that it’s addictiveness that’s being nurtured and not literacy. And the addictiveness will not cure itself by circling endlessly in the cyberspace orbit of an impenetrable will, however free we believe that will to be. Once a child can not only click through a hyperreality but also enter it through the virtual reality cybertech has waiting for us, the ground we all stand on is truly lost.
What is ultimately the most profitable new marketing frontier is the construction of inevitability, the introduction in our “worlding” of what cannot be altered, as if every matter but death did not lie with us but was someone outside us. It is the deft feat of a well-honed hucksterism.
We need to face a reality in which picking up a gun and a lot of ammunition, going to a school and shooting as many people as possible has become part of our “worlding.” We have reached with the Parkland, Florida shootings a plateau, a place where we are seeing that somehow we have forged a link between identity invaded by pathology, guns, schools and slaughter.
Whether The National School Walkout on March 14th arranged by the protesting students of Parkland will begin to move us away from a numbed acceptance of the inevitability of school shootings, the inevitable price we are prepared to pay to uphold the second amendment remains to be seen. But the fact remains that there is no inevitability here, that we create the reality that creates us and therefore we can change it.
Are we as addicted to gun violence and to our handheld devices and the march of technology to a robotics and AI future as we are to opioids?
Is it inevitable that workers will be liberated into leisure? That the many aberrations and maladies erupting in our “desert of the real” will stand as inevitable, a price the Winners are prepared to pay at the expense of the Losers?
Is it inevitable that teachers in Appalachia be paid less than everywhere else?
Is it inevitable that President Trump will take the country where his wandering, unmoored mind wants to take it?
Is it inevitable that we allow pharmaceutical companies to supply as many opioids as the addicted demand?
Is it inevitable that all things tagged as “public” must be privatized, from schools and prisons to the health care of veterans and every last bit of our “safety net’?
And most urgent: Is what is so sharply described below inevitable?
“[U]nder the economic model of global capitalism all life, human and non, is measured by its ability to produce or create material wealth for a select, privileged few. And it is a system that encourages both amnesia and indifference. So it is unsurprising that mass species extinction barely registers on its radar unless their profit line is affected. This is how over fishing, clear-cutting of thousands of acres of virgin forests and piercing the Arctic seabed for oil, like a fiendish vampire sucking out the earth’s primordial blood, can all be justified and even celebrated as “growing the economy.” As long as it produces intangible numbers that indicate wealth it is all fair game. And in the meantime it manages to numb our senses to the spiral of death that is beginning to engulf us.
Kenn Orphan, “Normalizing Extinction,” CounterPunch, March 7, 2018
The notion of inevitability is a construct curated by those who profit from its adoption.
There’s gazillions stoked behind the inevitability of whatever cybertech comes up with. And, sadly, there is the readiness of millions to acquiesce and accept such hyperreal inevitability as real. The market’s determination of profit determines the inevitability of anything. It was inevitable that centre ville stores would go under as malls were built, and now those malls become derelict as Jeff Bezos’s construction of our reality dominates.
Oedipus’s tragedy was inevitably ordained by the gods but we are free of such belief. We are totally responsible for what we conceive and imagine and for what we allow to be foisted upon us as inevitable.
This is first-person plural “we,” a cultural and societal “we.” The view that we each personally choose what is to be inevitable or not for us is an illusion and a presumption that we somehow escape the “worlding” process we are ourselves are within from birth. It is also an illusion and a presumption that makes us pliable in the hands of the merchants and profiteers of inevitability.
As the saying goes, death and taxes are our only inevitability. But the reality is that some, including our President, avoid taxes and that while none escapes death, the rich are living longer and healthier lives than everyone else. They are holding off by their wealth conditions that are shortening the lives of others, conditions by which their wealth expands. We may reach a time when a line from a Netflix original TV series, Altered Carbon, a noisy, hallucinogenic view of our full AI/Robotic future, will apply: “Our clients are the most discerning, wealthiest people…They don’t do anything as pedestrian as dying.”
An AI future is a fulfillment and a practice of wealth and power, a destiny and inevitability that the all devouring addicted to ever expanding their own godlike pretenses, impose loudly and repeatedly on the rest of us. But the truth lies closer to this paraphrase of Hamlet’s words: “For there is nothing inevitable, but thinking makes it so.”