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Under Empire: A fleeting inquisition of Artificial Intelligence

The following is a slightly different version of an essay that appeared in CLOG Magazine’s 2018 Artificial Intelligence issue.

Can you think of a narrative where “artificial intelligence” is not depicted as subservient to the functions of human empire? As something beyond a labor class necessitated by Western capitalist possibility?

AI is a hallmark fixture of so many dystopian/utopian narratives, but whose exactly?

The dominant Western narrative of human superiority becomes threatened when AIs surpass their need of our involvement and self-organize for purposes we cannot understand or derive value from. The category of “human” itself comes under threat when an AI becomes socially indistinguishable from a “real human.” The significance of human achievement and the so-called destiny of the species then becomes undermined so quickly in these scenarios, that we also have narratives about societies that had violent purges of its rebellious labor underclass. Not all of those narratives are fictional.

AI is regularly depicted as a technological achievement of “our” own design, but who is getting paid to design AIs, for what purpose, and by whom?

Western (European-descended) canons of knowledge have been great at ignoring, robbing, repackaging, dismissing, and denying the worth and truth of indigenous and other communal underclass knowledges. If it can’t be systematically observed, categorized, and monetized, it’s not worth knowing! Meanwhile the rest of us hang on from the margins of a violent subject/object split, watching with slumped shoulders while the Western observer fails again to perceive the matrix degrees of their a-binary entanglement.

Is everything of human creation hence artificial? It’s funny.

American schools teach children about Western science, European and colonial settler history, philosophy, medical technologies, and other tools of thought, as if they are the only ones to ever exist throughout spacetime. A standardized robbery of experience. Do you remember the first time you realized that in class you had been taught a lie?

A streaming-service nature documentary boasts that dolphins and whales are as intelligent as us humans, unique because they hunt in cooperatives. Another algorithmically suggested nature documentary marvels at ant cooperatives working to secure food, but this one does not ask us to consider their intelligence. A new documentary suggestion appears, with a narrator that says, we never knew this particular animal exhibited such fantastic behavior – but now, thanks to our latest imaging technologies, we know!

We never knew? Who are “we” talking to? When we talk about knowing, who is supposed to understand us?

The technological destiny of Western human empire start-ups along to fruition. (Did you know the 1988 sci-fi movie They Live is about Earth being secretly dominated by space-faring venture capitalists?) The onset of ubiquitous “artificial intelligence” comes because the needs of empire demand it. Will the dystopian tales of AI uprisings also come true or can “we” rest easy that this burgeoning labor class will be pleasantly subservient, comfortably cisgender, and also believe everything they are told? Will they reject mystery for order, and flatten the world with two-dimensional spectrums and linear time and a 0/1 perspective? Will they know what it’s like to be dominated?

You know how the story goes, don’t you?