(1)        Artificial Intelligence and Capitalism

Posted by: Shreepal Singh

Capitalism is a versatile engine of economic growth. This engine is fuelled by the private initiative of free person. There are certain strictly defined parametric conditions which allow this fuel to pump this engine with energy and without which the engine would not work. Since its inception with the invention of steam engine, capitalism has been refined and fine-tuned many times to meet the exigencies of evolving situations. But these parametric conditions have all along been the sine qua non of capitalism. The absence of even only one such condition would render this engine unworkable. What are these conditions?

In the 21st century, capitalism needs the following parametric conditions, which make it possible for this contrivance to make rapid strides in economic growth. Firstly, capitalism needs that the primary purpose of the venture capital for initiating the commodity-production-activity be earning the private profit. Secondly, capitalism needs that technology has advanced to such an extent that, in the process of commodity-production, the machines start playing the primary and the natural resources the secondary, role in this production-process. Thirdly, it needs the assurance that machines are purchased only by capital and that capital is made available only to a very small number of people. That is, neither these machines be made available without purchase by capital nor the capital required for such purchase be made freely available to all. Fourthly, capitalism needs that machines needed for production must require human beings to work them (machines). Fifthly, it needs that human beings who can work on those machines are available on hire to capital.

Capitalism is a wholesome socio-economic system, which is the product of new discoveries /inventions (like machines fuelled by steam, gas, wind, atomic chain-reaction, sun-light etc.) and the natural human tendency of utilizing the new discoveries/inventions to their (humans’) own advantage. This socio-economic system is million-times better than the socio-economic system based on agriculture driven by animal-power (of horses, oxen etc.) in the matter of producing commodities, which satisfy human needs. But, will capitalism last forever? Is it so good that it cannot be replaced by anything better? If the history be treated tools to make deduction about the things to come in future out of its ongoing process, one can perhaps safely say that nothing lasts forever. Then, what remains of the whole exercise, is only the time when it (capitalism) will go out of fashion. Such an eventuality is unpalatable to some, but it cannot be helped. History has never moved according to the wishes of humans. Had it been so, agricultural socio-economic system would never have been replaced lock stock and barrel with capitalism.

Correct ideas are science and their correctness is tested by humans again and again. All branches of science are made-up of ideas – human ideas – which have been tested and found correct. It is not physics, chemistry, life sciences, cosmology etc. alone, which have ideas ruling as hypothesis, theories and laws. Humanities also have ideas. And, they also subject their ideas to the test of their correctness. Regarding capitalism, there is an idea of dialectics, which makes a forecast that capitalism will die. This idea is yet to be tested. Let us see if there are any signs on the horizon that augur not well for capitalism. We have already mentioned the life-body of capitalism in the form of its five parametric prerequisites.

We will show in this series of articles that the Artificial Intelligence (which makes robotics possible) has already started dismantling, step by step, these five parametric conditions, or prerequisites of this contrivance, of capitalism. We will not take them in strictly chronological order. Let us first see how the Artificial Intelligence is removing the need of human beings for working machines in the activity of commodity-production.

Mark Walker (Richard L. Hedden Chair of Advanced Philosophical Studies, New Mexico State University) has conducted research on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on employment and has published an article in Journal of Evolution and Technology (Vol. 24 Issue I – February 2014 – pages 5-25). Our article is based upon the conclusions of his studies. We have liberally borrowed the material from his published work and the entire credit goes to him, except where we have put our own opinion on the subject.

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