It is always easier to live a homogenous life, one that begins and ends, comfortably, within the boundaries of a single age. Unfortunately, we are not destined to do so, as artificial intelligence (AI) will force us to straddle two ages.
The period that began in the late 18th century inaugurated the last age. It began with revolutionary changes spawned by technology, such as the spinning jenny, which gave rise to the modern factory. It stretched to include the end of the 20th century, when new gadgets still had a link with the old. For many people, the cell phone was just a glorified telephone, and the car a glorified horse. But AI, especially machine-learning AI, is something new, which is why people’s imaginations run wild when they think about it. They wonder if AI will have free will or deserve rights. No technology has ever posed such metaphysical questions. Even the atom bomb was just a big bomb. As the older age wanes and we enter a period of transition, people rightly feel anxious.
Ironically, at precisely the moment when it is difficult to think of anything but of what will be, it may yet be worthwhile to cast a glance backward at what was. People want to know AI’s impact on society, but this means understanding how AI fits along capitalism’s long timeline. Yes, AI represents a major technological breakthrough, with many applications still unforeseen. But AI didn’t just appear out of the blue; it appeared because people wanted it to appear—and capitalism is about giving people what they want. Indeed, the whole capitalist project since the end of the 18th century has been about people using technology to perfect their own lives. AI is part of that project. To understand where AI is taking us, we must first understand capitalism and its trajectory over the past two centuries.
How AI Is a Creature of Capitalism
Only a fool would sell his merchandise for exactly the same price he paid for it. Such a person would go bankrupt. This is why capitalism is more than just profit making, which has been around for millennia. Instead, capitalism is a unique method of wealth accumulation that draws ever more products into the system of exchange to meet people’s ever-expanding needs. A capitalist may look at the trees when walking through the woods but not at the sky. Why? Because the sky doesn’t pay interest. People need lumber but they don’t need the sky. When they do, capitalists will look at the sky. Under capitalism, whatever people need is eventually absorbed into the economy.
We tend to think of people’s needs as stable, but this is not so. During the 19th century, capitalism delivered food, energy, and housing, and still does, but rarely are people content with just being alive.
Under capitalism, needs beget more needs. For example, when manufacturing goods in factories, noise is also manufactured—often in great quantities. In this way “quiet” enters the system of exchange. Living in quiet neighborhoods often costs more, simply because they have less noise. Quiet becomes an object of trade—and it is costly merchandise. Marx observed how needs multiply as capitalism advances, writing, “Every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to fresh sacrifice.”
Over time, as new needs arose, some of them fell under the category of the purely psychological. People themselves often don’t know much about their innermost moods, and they blunder out of one into another. They have days of peevishness and sullenness, of blank resignation and despondency, and occasional fits of rage and longing. We tend not to think about feelings as part of the system of exchange, especially in the 19th century, when the times were dirtier, lousier, tougher, and simpler. People then suffered mental anguish as people today do, but capitalism exists to satisfy needs, and in those days most needs involved a lack of things, such as food and plows. They had the mark of physical necessity. Besides, no technology other than alcohol or tobacco existed to reliably satisfy mental anguish unrelated to a lack of things. The vast universe simply brought people joy or sadness according to its own laws.
The first psychological issue to be taken seriously as a need in the United States, and to be serviced on a mass scale, was the feeling of security. During the 1930s and ’40s, the Depression rent the social fabric of order, while fascism and communism threatened Americans in another way. People wanted to be able to go about their daily lives without fear of destitution or attack from foreign armies. What arose in response was the notion of “social security” in the domestic sphere and “national security” in the foreign policy sphere, each expressed through new and large governmental bureaucracies.
Domestic programs such as Social Security were thought antithetical to capitalism, and in one sense they were. They required tax increases and interfered with the free market. But on another level they were really extensions of capitalism, and not just because they rescued the capitalist system. Instead, capitalism’s private property impulse had penetrated deep into people’s minds; security became another thing to possess, to consume, to have. Improved technology, such as actuarial science, made servicing this “need” possible. That the Federal government ran Social Security in competition with private sector programs is less important than the fact that all these programs met people’s new need for security.
The second psychological issue to be taken seriously as a need and serviced on a mass scale was happiness. In the popular press, the 1950s and ’60s were called the “Age of Anxiety”; the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s were called the “Age of Depression.” During the second half of the 20th century, many Americans not only became acutely aware of being unhappy, they needed happiness. Psychoactive drugs such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs became the technology of choice to meet this need. Today, 15 to 20 percent of Americans are on some kind of psychoactive drug, with many of these prescriptions written for everyday unhappiness rather than true clinical depression. This is not real happiness. It is Artificial Happiness.
The third psychological issue to be taken seriously as a need and serviced on a mass scale was loneliness. Loneliness was not even on society’s radar screen through most of the 20th century. Then, in the 1970s, sociologists observed that 10 percent of Americans were lonely.1 By 2004, that number had climbed to 25 percent. Today, half of Americans are lonely.2 A technology—psychotherapy—was tapped to service this need, leading to the creation of a gigantic caring industry. There has been a 100-fold increase in the number of professional caregivers over the past 70 years, although the general population has only doubled.3 A form of talk therapy that closely mimics the experience of real friendship, called “short-term therapy,” was adapted from existing technology to supply lonely people with a service similar to what friends and relatives used to offer. This is not real friendship. This is Artificial Friendship.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence coincides with the fourth psychological issue to be taken seriously as a need and serviced on a mass scale: certainty. Certainty differs from security. Security demands protection from specific threats, such as poverty or military attack, and a floor through which one cannot fall, while leaving the rest of life in play. Certainty is demanded by those who see danger everywhere, who consciously feel an element of gambling in every action, and who want everything in life to be risk free. Rather than a specific threat, the enemy of certainty is a mass of suppositions provoked by just living, and hard to get a grip on.
Over the past 30 years, Americans have grown incredibly risk-averse. As a child, my friends and I would happily make Creepy Crawler monsters by baking a plastic liquid that gave off toxic fumes in an open-faced electric oven, which we had plugged into a wall socket with our hands still wet from the swimming pool, despite the frayed electric cord—all with our parents away. Such behavior now is unthinkable. Parents police their children’s activities for any threat. People ride their bikes fully padded and helmeted. The major reform effort in health care now is to eliminate all possibility of error. The anxiety toward risk is ubiquitous. No matter what the activity, Americans live in a state of melancholy apprehension as they try to eliminate uncertainty in every aspect of their lives.
This is a businessperson’s dream. No limits exist to the number of uncertainties that can be rooted out in life. New risks crop up at every moment. Just going out the front door poses a risk. People anticipate the disaster; they wait for it; they give it temporal duration by providing it with a future.
Behavior during the Age of Coronavirus conceals the more enduring change in people’s attitudes toward risk, for serious risk now exists in small everyday actions, such as touching and breathing. Yet frayed nerves and the tendency to see danger in the smallest daily doing predate the Coronavirus epidemic. Some scientific experts complain that the Coronavirus mortality rate may not be as bad as we imagine, and that we lack sufficient data to judge. They say the media is scaring people. Then again, it is easy for media to implant the fear of mishap into the mind of a worried man who already has his imagination on the lookout for an enemy. In the Coronavirus epidemic, immediate worry and fear over something major has combined with the more longstanding worry and fear over things minor to make people doubly worried and afraid.
To meet this need for certainty, capitalism has combined the intelligence of human beings with the reliability of the machine. We are entranced by the machine. We are entranced by its amazing perfection—a perfection more enduring than ourselves. Unlike a human being, a machine is all sureness and no chance. The result is not real intelligence but Artificial Intelligence. Wherever it is installed, AI promises to make us everlastingly safe and put an end to the game of possibilities.
AI’s earliest commercial applications demonstrate how capitalism has drawn this obsession with certainty into the marketplace. AI didn’t just show up everywhere in the marketplace all at once; it began where certainty was most wanted. The big push has been in health care, driving, cybersecurity, and the financial industry. In the first three sectors, small errors risk lives; in the fourth sector, they risk money.
Certainty, like security, happiness, and friendship, has become vital property to possess. The need for it completes capitalism’s timeline to date. Many Americans today get their security from government, their happiness from a pill, and their friendship from a therapist; in the near future they will get their certainty from an AI system.
What Comes Next
It takes very little to spoil a nice day. A waitress comes over to your table to take your order, but she gets it wrong. Nothing can please you then. But the remedy is simple: replace the waitress with AI. This is already happening, and not just for waitresses. An estimated 36 million jobs are at risk.
The AI trend builds on an earlier one at the turn of the last century, when industry aspired to make work “foolproof” (an Americanism coined during the same period). “Foolproof” means protection from the fool. Industry distrusts people; it has little faith in their resourcefulness; whenever possible it tries to protect itself from errors native to a living creature. Only the primitive state of technology kept industry in the early 20th century from fully implementing this principle on the assembly line.
The same was true for the emerging service industry. But in the latter, customers also resisted the trend. For example, in the first half of the 20th century, automats put different kinds of food inside little glass closets, which people accessed with their dimes and nickels. Despite a customer getting exactly the food he or she wanted, automats never made it big in America. Coffee drip machines, which dripped exactly as much coffee as they were supposed to drip, did well, but not automats. Despite the uncertainty that comes with human servers, customers still wanted a waitress when ordering their food.
This preference for human servers abetted the rise of the service economy, which let most American workers identify as middle-class for much of the 20th century. To this day, on one side of the work spectrum are the laborers of old—the small fraction of Americans who still work on the assembly line, who build things, or who farm, and who wrestle all day with the object world. At the other extreme is the pure managerial class, which never deals with the object world directly, but, instead, influences or commands people connected to the object world, typically by cajoling, bargaining, convincing, or ordering. The managerial class lives by persuasion; lawyers, politicians, CEOs, professors, social workers, and lobbyists persuade others to pay them. Between these two poles exists an enormous army of service workers who are part-laborer and part-manager.
A waitress, for example, moves objects such as plates, but she also laughs, smiles, and speaks in a friendly manner to her customers to get tips. She persuades her customers to pay her. Politeness is a tool for this task of persuasion. The same is true for the restaurant valet, the doorman, the greeter, and the coat checker. The laborer-manager hybrid exists across the service economy. The labor component moves objects, while the manager component works through persuasion. Because the latter requires fine manners, nice clothes, a good disposition, and good interpersonal skills, millions of Americans in the service economy feel themselves to be more than just laborers, despite their low pay. Indeed, many job titles emphasize this managerial component to boost their prestige. A tow operator is sometimes called a “roadside counselor.” A sales clerk is called a “merchandising counselor.” A head butcher is called the “meat manager.”
AI will upend this world, with the drive for certainty as the motive force.
AI systems will replace many pure laborers, as business wants certainty. Productivity growth over the past decade in the United States has been at its lowest since the 1940s. To increase productivity, business will substitute machines for laborers who move objects in the object world. Unlike a laborer, an AI system is never late for work, never calls in sick, never tires, and rarely errs. AI promises certainty, which is profitable.
Business will also substitute AI for many hybrid workers who are part-laborer and part-manager. These include low-skilled hybrids, such as waitresses and bank tellers, but also high-skilled hybrids, such as doctors, nurses, and engineers, who have traditionally been viewed as part of the managerial class. The work of nurses and doctors includes a labor component that involves the direct movement of objects. Many engineers work at a distance from the objects they move through their technical knowledge, but that distance is only a half step. Engineers need not excel at the art of persuasion to get paid; they get little from politeness; although members of the managerial class, engineers are also hybrids. Many hybrids today work for large companies, including doctors, who were once mostly independent professionals. This exposes high-skilled hybrids to big business’s drive for certainty and replacement with AI.
Not all hybrids will lose their jobs, just as not all laborers will lose their jobs. AI will never completely substitute for an expert’s natural intelligence. Also, a hybrid’s managerial component will still be useful, although not as much as one might expect: Often the commonplace words of a machine carry more persuasive weight than a wise comment from a mid-level administrator. Still, much of a hybrid’s labor component will be given over to AI—for example, calculating, shuffling papers, checking, and inspecting—reducing the need for even high-level hybrids.
The persuasive skills of pure managers, including CEOs, lawyers, therapists, politicians, promoters, professors, human resource specialists, and salespeople, will still have value. But with fewer human workers in business to command, cajole, or influence after their replacement with AI, the need for pure managers will decline. To the degree that professors are, in fact, not pure persuaders but more like hybrids, since they disseminate information as much as they convince students of new truths, their jobs are also at risk. Entertainers such as comedians and talk show hosts are safe, as persuading people to laugh is no easy trick, but garden-variety actors are vulnerable, as AI-generated actors (virtual actors) can entertain by simulating an actor’s motions and speeches.
Consumers will also drive this change. Today’s consumers want certainty. It is a “need” that must be satisfied, and they will compulsively surrender some of their pleasure to get it—for example, giving up the pleasure of driving a convertible, top down, on the open highway, in exchange for eliminating the risk of car collisions.
What signal in consciousness led to this obsession with certainty among consumers is hard to say. People live longer and have fewer children, therefore the stakes are higher, as losing one child risks making one childless, while serious injury at middle age robs one of many decades of life to come, rather than just a few years. In addition, today’s economy demands more efficiency from its workers. When a worker leaves the office there is only so much time to pick up the kids, go to the cleaners, or go to the store—especially when capitalism demands both spouses work. For a single parent, it’s even harder. Needs multiply under capitalism, but to meet those needs in today’s environment, people need certainty. They can’t wait on a dry cleaner who might screw up, or a locksmith whose shop has closed unexpectedly. Jeff Bezos recognized this when building Amazon on the notion that people would pay a little more to shop online to save time, so vital had time become.
With little slack in the system, peace of mind depends on things going smoothly in the manner of a machine. The AI refrigerator must communicate directly with the AI grocer when food levels drop, to save people time and inconvenience. The AI exercise machine must cut the time needed to work out at the gym to just 45 minutes a week. On vacation, the travel agent must have scheduled the itinerary with certainty, the security guard at the resort must practice perfect vigilance, and the waitress at the fine restaurant must get the order just right—otherwise, stress. This is why these workers must be replaced with AI.
AI Gives Rise to a New Politics
Tension between the managerial class and the working class, first described by James Burnham in the mid-20th century and highlighted most recently by Michael Lind, dominate our politics today. But it will not do so once the AI revolution has run through both the working class and the managerial class, upending the service economy. Four demographic groups will change in size as a result—and change our politics.
The first group includes laborers, hybrids, and managers who will lose their jobs to AI. To the extent that they market their skills to find new ones, they will all immediately become pure managers, in the sense that they try to persuade others to hire them. Even homeless people who beg are pure managers in this regard, as they persuade others to give them money on the street. In the new AI economy many of these people will be unemployable; hence the idea of Universal Basic Income, pushed most recently by Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, to pension them off.
But this won’t work. The problem is not just that these people will be robbed of their dignity, but that they will grow bored without work, which is dangerous, because boredom makes people discontent. They will meditate on their discontent as if it were a horror story left open on a table. Their boredom will pursue them everywhere, which is a sign that they are failing to develop their potentialities. Many of them will funnel their creative energy into ideologies and believe blindly, having lost all contact with the object world.
The object world anchors people in reality. It is why workers and peasants have traditionally been the least ideological demographic. Such people live and think in real labor; at every moment they have contact with the object world, which, other than religion, puts a restraint on the imagination. Such contact forestalls a kind of thinking that results from working with the conceptions of the mind alone. It is why most of the major ideologies in history—for example, fascism, communism, romanticism, environmentalism, feminism, and nationalism—were the thought products of bourgeois philosophers. Even the ideology of courtly love grew up in the 12th century not among tailors and blacksmiths, nor even among doctors and lawyers, but among wealthy women with enough time to perfume their skin and wealthy men with enough time to adore them.
No one can predict what new ideologies will emerge from this group. At least one of them will be violent, as people pensioned off will dwell on their loss of dignity and create an ideology dedicated to the smashing of AI machines. With ex-managers giving formidable intellectual guidance and ex-laborers scorning fine manners, this group will share in the worst of both worlds: the manager’s tendency toward idealism and (unless they are beggars) the laborer’s impoliteness.
The second group also consists of pure managers. It can be broken down into two subgroups.
The first subgroup includes ex-hybrids trying to earn a living through small-scale capitalism. These people will invent and market unnecessary products that play on people’s desire for certainty, thereby attempting to create in people unnecessary needs. One already finds these entrepreneurs, for example, on the television show “Shark Tank,” where they hawk unnecessary products, such as a device that keeps one’s tie straight while running, or an AI-tailor that guarantees perfect custom-made shirts. The necessity of this work is not enough to sell it; entrepreneurs must persuade other people of its necessity. Many future small-scale entrepreneurs will have less contact with the object world than past entrepreneurs did; they will leave much of the object world to AI; their success will come not from technical knowledge but from amiability and relations with other people.
The other subgroup consists of ex-hybrids and managers who will lose their jobs and become community and nonprofit activists. The nonprofit sector has already grown to 10 percent of the workforce. Rather than hawk unnecessary products, these people will hawk ideologies, including those ideologies bubbling up from the unemployed.
Laborers and hybrids working in the object world live from minute to minute, with one minute following the next. They live as they are living—in the present—as they try to overcome nature. Such people are often happy because they can forget; working in the object world, they stop thinking of themselves. Activists, on the other hand, lack contact with the object world, and so they have time to speculate on their miseries, which they get from a past they dredge up and a future they invent. They act out in their imaginations a brilliantly clear tragedy in which they portray all the world’s wrongs; they interpret everything through their anger, and their anger, in turn, is increased. They are like the angry painter who, in painting a picture of war, grows even angrier. They become rabid ideologues. Their ideology sometimes turns into a delirium, and, through persuasion, they pass their delirium on to others.
The third group consists of government workers. As laborers, hybrids, and even pure managers lose their jobs to AI in the private sector, government will expand to receive them, to quell popular unrest. Senator Bernie Sanders is already pushing Federal Jobs for All legislation. Because government work does not require making a profit, the need for certainty in such work is less, and so is the need for AI. Laborers and hybrids hired by government will be able to satisfy the human urge to connect with the object world, despite the uncertainty they bring to their tasks. In the expanded public sector there will still be human ditch diggers and waitresses, human firemen and security guards, human cashiers and car drivers. There will also be a place for ex-managers who persuade people for a living, but whom the private sector has judged to be redundant in the age of AI, including some teachers, lawyers, administrators, and professors.
But as the public sector expands, the problems that come with more government also expand. Capital is siphoned off from the more efficient private sector. Politics often play a big role in getting a government job, demoralizing those who believe in meritocracy. Inefficiency worsens, as government need not be efficient. In addition, human workers themselves are sources of inefficiency because of the uncertainty they bring to their tasks, which private sector AI tries to eliminate.
The first two groups will likely join with public employees to pit the state against the now-shrunken managerial elite in the fourth group, and which the state was once allied with.
The fourth group consists of pure managers and high-value hybrids with natural intelligence that AI cannot replace. Pure managers, such as CEOs, social workers, and therapists, will continue to make their living through persuasion. High-level hybrids, such as elite doctors, scientists, pilots, and artists, will enjoy the best of both worlds: the mental satisfaction that comes with triumphing over nature in the object world and the pleasure that comes with hard work in cooperation with others. A liberal arts education will still benefit these people, not because they must persuade human workers beneath them to carry out orders, as AI will have replaced many of these workers, but because they must still persuade other elite managers in boardrooms. They must still live, in part, by words; they must still arrange words in the right way.
But the managerial class, at least as traditionally understood, will have shrunk to such a degree that it may cease to be a class. Paradoxically, as the number of managers increases in society through the AI revolution, stemming from the increase in beggars, the unemployed seeking work, the pensioned-off, the small-scale marketeers, the nonprofit activists, and many of the new public employees—all of whom “persuade” for a living—the power of managers as an elite class will decline. Much of post-World War II politics in the United States turned on a kind of iron alliance between the managerial class and the state. The managerial class got the economic benefits and culture it wanted, while the state got the managerial class’s support. But in the future, because of AI, the number of traditional managers will dwindle. While the private sector will remain the source of wealth, the old managerial class will not necessarily remain a source of votes. Indeed, after the AI revolution there may be more hybrids and pure managers working in the public sector than in the private sector, as the state becomes employer of last resort. Along with the other new “managers” created by the AI revolution, a new relationship between the state and those who persuade for a living may come into being.
Other ramifications follow. As AI replaces workers across the board, the call for more immigration will decline. An ideology of nationalism may take hold again, and not just among laborers. Hybrids and pure managers already see their jobs under threat from AI; unbridled immigration creates a double threat. In another possibility, with more managers in society relative to laborers—meaning all the people who persuade in one form or another to make a living—expect political correctness, which has become a new kind of manners, to cement itself. As a group, pure laborers have been the most resistant to political correctness. But AI threatens pure labor. In a world where AI runs the object world, and the ability to persuade is a human’s being most valuable skill, people will keep a tight rein on their words and gestures. They will avoid saying the kind of thing they might later regret.
AI and the Politics of Relationships
In the era before toothpaste and gyms, people didn’t expect their lovers to have perfect teeth or perfect bodies. It may have been desirable, but such traits occurred too infrequently in the population to become a conscious “need.” Now they have become a need, along with other traits, thanks to the technology that makes them possible. For many people, certain physical and psychological traits in their romantic partners have become essential property; they must be had. Yet they are “owned” by the other party, in the same way drug companies own Artificial Happiness and therapists own Artificial Friendship. The other party may not want to make them available; after all, not everyone clicks. Worse, getting such property usually involves more than just paying cash. The first party must offer up control over his or her traits to the other party, through a kind of contract known as a “relationship.” The first party must then remain loyal in that relationship. Even worse, if the first party falls in love with the other party, there is no certainty that the other party will keep the vital traits that the first party fell in love with. The other party might get fat, or turn into a bully or a shrew. Nor is there certainty that the other party will remain loyal. Add in today’s pre-existing distrust between the sexes, as evidenced in the #MeToo movement among women and the MGTOW (men going their own way) movement among men, and the interest in AI robot lovers (called “sexbots”) should not surprise.
In Marxist language, AI sexbots end “reciprocity in alienation,” where each party must surrender some of his or her freedom to get vital properties held by the other. These properties, along with the certainty that the party who has them will keep them and continue to offer them, must be owned, people think, to live a happy life. But such certainty is impossible. It requires the other party to be perfect and, second, to cooperate perfectly. Yet sexbots make it possible. The physical and personality traits of a sexbot can be customized to perfection. When the sexbot is purchased, it is owned for good. Thus, love can be made certain and purchased in the same way people buy security, Artificial Happiness, and Artificial Friendship.
Sexbots are already a multi-billion dollar industry. Half of Americans expect sex with robots to become routine by 2050. If large numbers of people pursue this option, the U.S. population will continue to plummet. Already the number of births is below replacement rate; only immigration buoys the growth rate above zero. True, the downward trend complements the AI revolution. With AI replacing human workers, fewer births will be needed (just as fewer immigrants will be needed). Yet sexbots, along with AI robot companions more generally, risk triggering a troubling cascade of psychological events.
In the eyes of the buyer, the sexbot becomes an ideal being, and while such a state as this lasts, the result is an almost perfect life for the buyer. All the physical and psychological traits desired are there, and reliably so. The sexbot is not alive; nevertheless, to the buyer, there seem to be two people in the room, especially when the sexbot utters homely, human remarks.
But although the sexbot is never hostile the way some human lovers become, it is not exactly friendly. Psychologically, the experience is comparable to traveling in a foreign country and meeting people one doesn’t know well. The conversation is pleasant. There are no opportunities for barbs. People wear polite expressions. Companionship is easy. It’s as if the sexbot shows its best side to someone it doesn’t know very well.
The sexbot is not complicated. Nevertheless, it soon becomes grating. Novelty is a potent attraction, but it is also the most perishable. Besides, pleasure that is just handed to us never provides the joy we expect. In a partner, we want to be chosen, not endured. Winning in love brings no lasting happiness unless the person won was possessed of free will. True, winning risks uncertainty, and therefore anxiety, since love might not be requited, or last. In a relationship with a sexbot, the buyer need never wonder, “Is it over?” Then again, uncertainty is what makes winning in love an even keener pleasure.
The buyer wants to achieve something certain in love, but he or she encounters a defect in AI that is applicable to all AI-human relationships. We want certainty, yet no love or friendship is possible without faith and loyalty, which hinge on uncertainty, for faith and loyalty might not be deserved. This is why there can be no love or friendship with an AI robot. There is too much certainty.
Millions of AI sexbots and robots will be produced in the future. They will perform important, titanic work, including satisfying the sexual urges of millions of Americans. But in all this shifting of masses and weights, there will be nothing to break the monotony of certainty. Machine-learning AI can learn many things—except the art of not tiring people.
What Comes After Certainty?
The stimulus of American life has always been money. Everything that brings in money develops; everything that does not bring in money withers away. Combined with the popular American notion that life must be improved, we arrive at the fundamental principles of capitalism.
Still, when looking at the AI systems to be produced in the future, one has a sense of sadness, which probably comes from the incompleteness of capitalism’s conquest. Security, happiness, friendship, and, soon, certainty will have been won, but we will still hover on the brink between the primeval and the perfect. People will grow bored in an AI world, some because they have been pensioned off and have no work, others because their activism leads to nowhere, and still others because their sexbots deny them the pleasure of winning mates for themselves, through their charms.
Therefore, the next psychological need to be serviced on a mass scale will be pride. People want to build or destroy. Their pride in doing so will become the new need. AI will likely lend a hand in satisfying this new need, perhaps through virtual reality contraptions where people spend most of their private lives in a constructed universe so realistic that they can imagine themselves to be living another life, and in a narrative that stokes their pride. As Marx observed, capitalism always looks forward, not backward. To revive the feeling of pride that AI machines have destroyed, people will not need a newfound reverence for tradition. On the contrary, they will need to work that much harder to perfect their power over nature. They will need even better machines.
1M.E. Bragg, “A Comparative Study of Loneliness and Depression,” quoted in Benedict McWhirter, “Loneliness: A review of the current literature,” Journal of Counseling and Development, (March/April 1990).
2Miller McPherson, et. al., “Social Isolation in America,” American Sociological Review (June 2006).
3Drawn from Federal Census data in the 1940s and 2010s. See Ronald W. Dworkin, “The Rise of the Caring Industry,” Policy Review (June/July 2010).