I was watching The Magnificent Ambersons the other afternoon, which, if you're not familiar with the film, is an American masterpiece (despite the best efforts of RKO to shape it into something more palatable to a wartime audience) based on the classic novel by Booth Tarkington about the inevitable deterioration/destruction of a wealthy turn-of-the-century (last century) dynasty. It's a film about the engines of social change. In this case, literally an engine: the horseless carriage.
In the course of the film, inventor and automobile manufacturer Eugene Morgan is taken to task by the spoiled and shiftless son of aristocratic Isobel Amberson, the woman Eugene has loved all his life. The young man recognizes correctly that the automobile is going to change life as they all know it. Naturally, being rich and privileged and insulated from reality, the young man likes life just as it is.
Anyway, everyone is shocked by young George's outburst, except Eugene who responds in a reasoned, even sympathetic manner.
I'm not sure George is wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization. It may be that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of men's souls. I'm not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. It may be that in ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George: that automobiles had no business to be invented.
As I was listening to this speech, it occurred to me that you could easily substitute "AI" for "automobile," and Eugene would still be right.
AI is here to stay and life for all of us is going to change forever. Has already begun to change. Businesses are proudly touting their AI whatever in TV ads. In practical application as it relates to corporations, all these AI upgrades simply mean it's going to be harder than ever to get through to a real human being when you've got a problem. God help you if you've got to call AT&T. Granted, that's been true for the last ten years.
Someone was telling me what a terrible time the screenwriters chose to go on strike, but I think SAG-AFTRA showed foresight. Hell yes, in a capitalistic society the natural progression is to replace human labor with machines whenever possible! That is good business. That is how capitalism works. This is a fight that was absolutely going to happen. Better to attack from a position of strength than when you're already on the ropes, in my opinion.
That said, I am not by any stretch of the imagination anti-AI. I adore AI as a creative tool. AI is going to bring incredible gains to medicine, science, communication, agriculture... you name it. Yes, even the arts. It is fantastic.
It has the potential to wipe us us off the gameboard.
For sure it is going to mean the loss of jobs. Absolutely. It is going to create other jobs. Absolutely. That is how all great advances in technology work. AI is another Industrial Revolution. It is the automobile. It is the computer. It is all that and more. It is the Atomic Age x 10.
And we are only on the cusp of what is to come.
There is no turning back. The very most we can hope for--must fight for--is the reasoned and ethical use and implementation of AI. But even that will be very hard to do in a country that has granted personhood to corporations. I mean, can you really imagine successfully arguing that a corporation should be limited in how profitable it can be by insisting it continue to employ a human workforce versus AI? In front of this Supreme Court? That has never been a winnable argument in this country. It is the antithesis of capitalism.
But that is the actual fight ahead of us. Yet all I see are people bitching that someone used a Midjourney image in their cover art. Or utlized ChatGPT for research. Sure. That's the big threat. And regulations on business stifle innovation and economic growth.
Talk about missing the forest for the trees.