AI: Strip Mining Life Itself

May 2, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I may be — like a AI system — hallucinating. I think I am seeing more philosophical essays and medieval ratio recently. A candidate expository writing is “To Understand the Risks Posed by AI, Follow the Money.” After reading the write up, I did not get a sense that the focus was on following the money. Nevertheless, I circled several statements which caught my attention.

Let’s look at these, and you may want to navigate to the original essay to get each statement’s context.

First, the authors focus on what they as academic thinkers call “an extractive business model.” When I saw the term, I thought of the strip mines in Illinois. Giant draglines stripped the earth to expose coal. Once the coal was extracted, the scarred earth was bulldozed into what looked like regular prairie. It was not. Weeds grew. But to get corn or soy beans, the farmer had to spend big bucks to get chemicals and some Fancy Dan equipment to coax the trashed landscape to utility. Nice.

The essay does not make the downside of extractive practices clear. I will. Take a look at a group of teens in a fast food restaurant or at a public event. The group is a consequence of the online environment in which the individual spends hours each day. I am not sure how well the chemicals and equipment used to rehabilitate the strip minded prairie applies to humans, but I assume someone will do a study and report.


The second statement warranting a blue exclamation mark is:

Algorithms have become market gatekeepers and value allocators, and are now becoming producers and arbiters of knowledge.

From my perspective, the algorithms are expressions of human intent. The algorithms are not the gatekeepers and allocators. The algorithms express the intent, goals, and desire of the individuals who create them. The “users” knowingly or unknowingly give up certain thought methods and procedures to provide what appears to be something scratches a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ itch. I think in terms of the medieval Great Chain of Being. The people at the top own the companies. Their instrument of control is their service. The rest of the hierarchy reflects a skewed social order. A fish understands only the environment of the fish bowl. The rest of the “world” is tough to perceive and understand. In short, the fish is trapped. Online users (addicts?) are trapped.

The third statement I marked is:

The limits we place on algorithms and AI models will be instrumental to directing economic activity and human attention towards productive ends.

Okay, who exactly is going to place limits? The farmer who leased his land to the strip mining outfit made a decision. He traded the land for money. Who is to blame? The mining outfit? The farmer? The system which allowed the transaction?

The situation at this moment is that yip yap about open source AI and the other handwaving cannot alter the fact that a handful of large US companies and a number of motivated nation states are going to spend what’s necessary to obtain control.

Net net: Houston, we have a problem. Money buys power. AI is a next generation way to get it.

Stephen E Arnold, May 2, 2024


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