Forget AI, APs Are Far More Likely To Do Us In
Prophets of doom like Elon Musk and even the late Stephen Hawking believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the greatest existential threat to mankind. They envision the invention of a sufficiently advanced AI that is far more intelligent, faster and powerful than humanity, and which might end up enslaving us at best, or eliminating us at worst. At this point in time such speculation is nothing more than science fiction, but we don’t need to envision technology from the future when we’re living with rogue Artificial Persons (APs) that have already enslaved us and are currently plotting our demise. I’m speaking of corporations, of course.
An Artificial Person is “an entity established by law and given at least some legal rights and duties of a human being.” The most common types of APs are corporations.
This past month, Glasgow Scotland played host to COP26 where the largest delegation by far was sent by the fossil fuel corporations. According to Global Witness, more than 500 lobbyists for the likes of Shell, Gazprom and BP were in attendance from countries like Canada, Russia and Brazil. Simply put, these corporations sent human delegates to lobby for humanity’s demise, and rather than causing an outcry, it was treated as “business as usual.”
How is this possible? A timeline might be helpful:
- 1970s — Neoliberal economics introduces deregulation, allowing corporations to increasingly escape government oversight
- 1978 — US corporations are granted First Amendment rights to free speech
- 2008 — Corporations become too big to fail
- 2010 — “Citizens United” defines political spending as “free speech” effectively granting corporations control over US Government elections
In other words, corporations have captured (at least) the US Government. Joel Bakan’s book, The Corporation, paints a gruesome picture of the implications:
“Corporations are pathological institutions whose legally defined mandate is to pursue relentlessly and without exception its own economic self-interest, regardless of the harmful consequences it might cause to humanity.”
For APs, economic self-interest means finding more and more fossil fuels to add to their reserves, as well as committing to digging them up and selling them. Unfortunately for humanity, the most common reason for the sale of fossil fuels is to consume them, releasing the kind of greenhouse gases that are driving our current and growing climate catastrophe. In fact, if all the known fossil fuel reserves from back in 2016 were burned, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.4 to 9.5 degrees, on average, likely resulting in billions of deaths.
For APs, this externalized cost is an acceptable one since it’s unlikely to cause the complete collapse of industrial civilization. Maybe. At any rate, human extinction would be avoided since corporations take care of their own, providing their executives with outsized compensation packages that will allow them to save themselves as long as they remain committed to sacrificing the rest of us (no wonder income disparity is at an all time high). Of course, it may end up being a Pyrrhic victory, since quality of life at ten degrees of warming is unlikely to make existence worth enduring.
The Coal Hole
Alok Sharma, the British chair of the UN climate summit, famously choked up at the conclusion of COP26 while informing the world that coal will not be phased out but rather “phased down”, condemning those countries at the forefront of climate disruption to escalating misery, hardship and death. His emotional response is understandable. After all, unlike APs, he’s human and therefore has the capacity for compassion.
But it doesn’t change the fact that the world’s coal reserves will be burnt to the last rock; oil reserves consumed to the last molecule, and natural gas devoured to the last fumes. And there’s nothing we can really do about it. Despite protests by the powerless, most of those with real power would rather die than change their belief system. Dying for your beliefs might seem like an extreme statement, but recent history has provided us with an example in anti-vaxxers who continue to make up the greatest number of deaths from COVID despite having access to a simple, easy solution. And belief in corporate-driven capitalism is far more ingrained than vaccine aversion.
Is there hope? At some point in the next dozen years, China will take over from the US as the dominant force in world trade. That’s not to say that the Chinese will be benevolent economic overlords, but at least their government has yet to be captured by APs to the same extent the US has (though Evergrande continues to be bailed out indirectly). Of course, all it would take would be a concession of war to impose on China a US-style Corporatocracy. Perhaps a war fought over Taiwan might serve the purpose…
Hope Is Not A Plan
So what options does that leave the 99%? Well, you could try to fight your way into the 1% and leave your fortune to your descendants as kind of a concession to help ease their pain and suffering.
Otherwise, you can help flatten the curve:
Much as we’ve done for COVID by adopting measures like distancing, masking and vaccinations to limit the strain on hospitals, we can take measures like replacing CO2-generating energy production with renewables, replacing our cars with electric vehicles, and eating less meat to limit the strain on our atmosphere’s greenhouse gas capacity. Flattening the curve (ie., implementing the grey line in the diagram above rather than the red line) won’t eliminate fossil fuel consumption altogether (APs will never allow that), but it does help slow down the inevitable rise in global temperatures. Kind of kicking the can down the road so it’s our great grandchildren that suffer the most rather than our grandchildren.
To all our descendants that will inherit the results of COP26: mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.