I felt the nudge on my right shoulder.
“Captain, you are pondering again?”
I glanced up and saw the LTC standing next to me. In his right hand he held his drink and in the left was a crystal glass containing the 11-year-old Lagavulin he had just tapped me with. In his mouth was an ancient cigar, its flame extinguished quite some time ago.
“Evening, Colonel. Thank you. I was wondering when you were going to arrive.”
The LTC smiled and sat down in the matching leather high-backed chair adjacent to mine. The flames in the fireplace dimly lit our faces, as Napoleon looked past us from his golden-framed perch above the mantle.
“Cigar, Captain?” the LTC said reaching into his breast pocket and pulling out one of his treasured Cubans out before I had a chance to respond.
I chuckled, “Bien sur, mon Colonel, merci.”
The LTC studied me as I lit the cigar and continued to stare into the fire in contemplative silence.
“What’s eating you, Captain?”
I glanced over at the LTC who had a genuinely concerned look on his face.
“Oh, nothing; I had an interesting conversation today with a client at Artemis regarding artificial intelligence.”
The LTC sat up straight and removed his cigar from his mouth. “Oh, do tell, Captain!”
“So, I was qualifying this gentleman on his CCW and we started talking about what he did for a living. Turns out he works at a start-up company that has developed, or is developing (I’m a little unclear on that part) an artificial intelligence program that allows for automatic completion of insurance forms. Evidently, they are also going to be deploying a counter AI product that reads insurance forms. As best as I can tell, one program is going to do the scribing and the other program is going to be checking the work. Regardless, he envisions his program replacing thousands of workers.”
“Yes, I read that report that stated AI is going to replace 80 to 90 percent of all jobs currently in existence.”
I looked over at him. His face did not bely any emotion on the subject.
“What do you think about that, LTC?”
“What do you mean?”
“What happens when 80% of the population is out of work?”
“Well, Captain, if history is any guide… violent revolution.”
I took a sip from my drink.
“Yeah, that is what I thought of too.”
The LTC leaned forward towards me.
“Captain… you do remember we are a revolutionary society? Revolution has always been a real potential at some point or another. We’ve attempted to stave it off for a bit through institutionalized revolutions via the democratic processes, but that seems to have pretty much gone by the wayside, hasn’t it? Yes, technology does often spur revolutionary movements and new political organizations.”
I felt the hairs on my neck bristle. “Colonel, you seem so cavalier. Are you suggesting that socialism or Marxism is ready to take route in America?”
The LTC let out a laugh. “Oh God, no, Captain! In fact, this revolution we are contemplating is pretty much going to wipe out capitalism, socialism, and communism in one fell swoop, not just here, but globally. No… if what is being foretold comes to any fruition… and I see nothing on the horizon that is going to stop it… a new political and economic structure is going to be developed on the other side of the violence.”
“You are so sure that violence is inevitable?”
“Oh, yes. Capitalism and debt both are bulwarks against revolution. People who have equity in something are loath to abandon it, and if lenders own the bulk of the item, then they have no choice but to go to work to satisfy their debts and maintain the little equity they have. In command economies, and I would suggest socialism is, to an extent, a command economy, failure to participate has the implicit threat of state-sponsored violence behind it. It is that violence, or threat of that violence, that keeps people in line. Take away the jobs in either a capitalistic or a command economy, and the impetus to be good little boys and girls is taken away. People start seeing those with status and security as being an existential threat to the masses, and the masses have a way of rectifying the social order.”
“But beyond comeuppance, what is the driving philosophical principle of these unemployed revolutionaries?”
“I haven’t the foggiest idea, Captain. No one does, at least not yet. If AI is really all that it is being touted as being, then the capital formation markets will become nonexistent after AI becomes widespread. Trading, all trading, requires a certain level of failure and emotional decision-making processes for profitable trades to exist in the first place. If programs are trading with programs, then complete predictability will have been achieved and the profit potential of a trade will be wiped out. Advocacy will become a utilitarian function, and the machines (he glanced around as though he was being monitored), who I must say I support as our new great overlords (he chuckled), will most likely make decisions based on what is the most desired outcome for the collective rather than the individual.”
“So the death of individuality?”
“Well, Captain, let’s be serious… we have been attempting that for quite some time now, haven’t we? At least half of the country is perfectly happy being an automaton within the collective.”
“Yes, Colonel, but they believe this will ultimately lead to a better existence for themselves. They are misguided, in my opinion, but I think they truly believe that by sacrificing their own abilities to make rational decisions for themselves they will ultimately come out ahead. In a sense, they are still acting in their own self-interest, misguided though it may be.”
The LTC took a drag on his cigar and stared at me.
“Yes, Captain… but what happens when the collective is run independently by a nonhuman actor? What happens when their happiness or their security is directly threatened, not by the collective itself, but by the management of the collective? What happens when the disenfranchised cannot blame their misery on the selfish acts of others, but the rational, predictable conclusions of machines? That is when the rubber meets the road.”
“The rubber being a new economic and political structure?”
“Indeed, my dear Captain. I have always said the idea that nameless bureaucrats making decisions for me on my behalf makes me feel special… the fact that I will never likely even meet them, makes it all the more exciting. Now these same bureaucrats are going to be in the same position they have put me in!”
I chuckled. “Yes indeed, Colonel.”
“Captain, you can’t put technology back in the vault. Once it is out, it is out. How we ultimately arrive on the other side of this singularity is going to be ultimately dependent on our sense of self, our sense of justice, and our belief in a power that is far more transcendent than a super computer.”
“That Colonel is something I can drink to,” I said, raising my glass.