Monday, April 24, 2023

Are We Human or Are We Not?

With every third article on social media--or non-social media--these days being about AI and the huge sweep of changes its advancement portends, it baffles me that very few people, if any, are asking the right questions about AI.

I believe what we should be asking is simple.

How many pleasing machine/human interactions have you had in your life? If your internet goes out, or your cable, or your phone, were you able to get it resolved without wanting to throw something at the wall?

If you have to rebook a flight or switch from a noisy hotel room to a less-noisy one, were you able to do it without getting cranky? Now imagine the same operation when it snows or it's two in the morning.

And as you travel through the world, which do you prefer--spreadsheet-designed spaces or human-designed spaces. Do you prefer being optimized or treated well? 

At about 1:30 in this short documentary about the razing of  Mead, McKim and White's Penn Station, there's a quotation by the Yale Art Critic Vincent Scully. Scully says, "One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat."

That quotation for me frames the entire debate (if there is ever really a debate and not a foregone conclusion when humanity squares off against giant monied interests.)

How do giant corporations treat people? Have you ever been well-treated by a machine-derived communication or interaction?

This is the central question of civilization.

Will the masses--that's you and I, the little people--be treated as humans. Or are we beings that exist only to make the few, the powerful and the strong, immeasurably richer? 

Are we people or are we serfs/cannon fodder?

Will the governments that rule us and the corporations that grow ever-richer from our labors and our spending treat us like gods or like rats? 

Will they, in return for our sweat and brains, help us grow, help provide us with security, healthcare, the means to better our lives and those of our families? Or will they treat us as a coal seam--something from which to extract wealth--and when emptied, something to be left behind to sully and mar the natural landscape.

Concomitantly, how will these giant corporations speak to us and sell to us? Will they, as so many advertisers do today, scream at us, track us, steal our data and try to wring every last dollar from us by selling our data and harassing us with blandishments until we cry uncle just to stop the assault. 

The question I ask is simple. I think it should be the question we're all asking.

Do we want to be treated as humans--spoken to as humans and given courtesy and respect, or will we accept a mercantilist folding, spindling and mutilating?

And we in the ad industry, do we have any say in this? Or are we just here to follow brutalist orders?

For many years, certainly since I read George Packer's "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," I've started looking at the giant corporations who, by consolidating vast amounts of capital and power, now rule virtually every corner of our lives, as "Colonial powers."

By that I mean, that Walmart, like the East India Company removes wealth from where it was originally sited and sends it to boardrooms and executive suites in faraway lands. In so doing, they replace middle-class jobs that kept money in their original locales with poverty-jobs that ship wealth elsewhere. Think of what happens when Walmart or McKinsey come to town. The same happened in the ad industry when WPP, IPG and their merry band of CPAMBAs bought the industry. 

The wealth that was created and shared by hundreds of local agencies was bought up and taken over by a few global entities. Never have so few profited from the work of so many by giving so little in return.

That to me could be an apt synopsis of the artificial intelligence era. Skilled jobs like writing will be replaced by machine jobs. The costs will drop by 400% while the price will only be halved. Profits will therefore increase while quality will decline. All to the point of ultimate collapse.

That seems to be what we're hurtling toward.

Forget humans. Forget treating people like humans. Forget human creative output.

We have money to make.

No comments: