Welcome to [cybernetic] prison.
Believe whatever you want to see.
There is much vitriol sloshing around the Web today about the implications of AI tooling in creative work. My husband’s assessment of it is sobering: it will not take over the world, nor will it be some nothing-burger. He has enjoyed using tools like Midjourney more than ever before, telling me even that GPT-type tools will help him finish his novel. He loves using it to draw fantastical pictures of me.
I had quickly realised something as he was saying this, and it is not anything to do with the AI tools themselves. In a way, both ‘camps’ of pro-technology (called transhumanists and/or accelerationists) and anti-technology (pejoratively called Luddites) are correct: the AI is deadly, and certainly so, but it also will not kill us all.
I have come to understand AI as The Last Excuse. AI accelerates a social phenomenon we are already familiar with: people cannot handle the truth, and they often lie to themselves instead of facing the facts. The long-and-short of it is, it will very soon be unaffordable to lie to one’s self – or rather, it will be trivially easy to. This is the cybernetic prison.
People familiar with the various psychoses of the Worldwide Web already know that this drive has been here from the dawn. It is almost a requirement for drama to have a serious undercurrent of psychosis when it happens online. Until now, people have had to make do with hastily thrown-together narratives of so-called ‘internet history’, leading long-form text websites such as LiveJournal and Tumblr to dominate. Their power function was then increased by their migration to mainstream social media.
AI has the capacity to substantiate this psychosis like never before. Many people who entertain the notion that AI can supplant humans in any way will readily leverage these tools to make people redundant. Put simply, there is an insatiable hunger to be toxic and get away with it through AI. Do you draw for a living or make sketches? Well, if I don’t like you for an afternoon, I can get rid of you and train a model on your style. You’re not needed.
It’s not that AI will be getting rid of jobs. It’s that AI will be the Last Excuse for people who wanted to fire everyone they don’t like anyway to go ahead and pull the trigger. They don’t fundamentally like dealing with people. They are not proud or happy in their hearts with their fellow man. They’re proud of themselves for being able to so masterfully cope with sharing an existence with the rest of us. These people are sociopaths.
On the internet, mental states are like yawns: they’re contagious. When some sociopath invents a frame to launder his sappy misanthrope into whatever form it must take to be socially valuable – be it advice, porn (I use this term broadly), or what – everyone else then does the legwork he could never hope to achieve alone: propagating his rotten ideas and making them the new standard frame of reference for whatever subject is at hand. It doesn’t matter that most people aren’t sociopaths; most people are sheepish enough that they’ll happily propagate the ethos of one anyway without question. They’re married to their social credit score, for better or worse. This is why psychopathy tinges almost everything virulent we come into contact with online. Everything is a grift, especially stories. “Hearts and minds,” as they say.
The problem with all of this, besides the moral quandary, is that there is no exit. No irony about this considering some self-described accelerationists peddle ‘exit’ as a solution to their misanthropic politics; this is a closed system, and the only exit is a giant Looney Tunes style false tunnel on the stage of Plato’s cave. “WAGMI,” they say, “if only we believe.” They would believe in anything as long as it’s a comfortable change.
This is the end of the road, socially, for everyone who is, in their heart of hearts, decided against the struggle of dealing with others. For all of you, it’s going to get easier than ever, and it’s going to get very cold and lonely. I hope you were careful with what you wished for, because you just might be getting it.