AI Art has been in the public eye here lately. There are a lot of arguments for and against going around. I do not intend to argue for or against it. I plan on doing two things. First, pointing out the problem that AI art presents under capitalism, then I plan on talking about the reality of the technology and what it means under capitalism. For the record, I have never been the biggest champion of fan of Intellectual Property, but that i s a whole new can of worms that I am not going to delve into here. I spoke briefly on this topic on the podcast on several occasions. You can find those episodes here and here. I will say look into the phrases “Property is Theft” and “Copying is not Theft.”
Technological innovation should make our lives easier. Take the checkout lanes at the grocery for example. The clerk should now be able to work less for a living wage because the technology allows for that. But, instead because of our legal economic system the only one who benefits from such advancements are the ones who have wealth. The workers are seen as an obstacle to gaining more wealth. Despite the fact that labor creates all wealth, the owning class sees this as an inconvenience having to rely on those who can actually do the tasks that makes them rich.
I am going to talk about the world that should be. The world that Capitalism actively negates. Technological innovation should make our lives better. When the self checkouts are put into a store, the workers should be thrilled that there is the technology to make their lives easier. Technological advancement and automation should lead to being able to work less hours and live a life of improved quality. It should reduce demand for our labor thus creating a world where we need to work less and less to meet our needs. But, our economy and the laws that guide it are not made to meet our needs. They are written and made to accumulate wealth at the top. This phenomenon has been going on for centuries. New technology comes out and those who have the wealth to command work forces see it as an opportunity to save money on labor. The one at the top is the one who benefits. The same ones who pay for the legislators and all the media you consume. Creating a world where we produce to meet needs instead of shareholder profits would look very different.
Some folks are afraid of this technology and with good reason. The technology itself is a tool like any other. The problem lies in what that tool is used for. Under capitalism these technological advancements have only gone to eliminate work for workers with no benefit, just a push to compete in a competitive market to survive. The skills you have are made obsolete so that the capitalist gains further power over the workers. Less workers are needed so instead of say, folks benefiting by having to work less hours to meet their needs, we now find the conditions of work are increasingly more alienated. Look into what Marx had to say about alienation. Technology being used to make the lives of workers more miserable instead of improving it, is what capitalism will continue to do. Surplus workers are needed to keep competition for resources that are kept scarce through control of production at the top. We live in a society where scarcity is generated to keep desperation at the bottom so you will resign from fighting back and fall into line to do as the owners of industry want you to do. They want you as a resource that they can extract more wealth and power from. Money is power, even more so than a law on paper from congress. Money dictates what laws go on paper, what laws are enforced, and it influenced public opinion through media. This time I ask you to look into Cultural Hegemony. And while you are at it take a look at what Herman & Chomsky said about Manufacturing Consent and the political economy of mass media.
AI is a technology that will threaten the positions of many people, far more than just artists. If we had a world where workers owned the means of productions instead of oligarchs, CEO’s, Wall Street, and company presidents; the decisions made to meet the needs of workers instead of satisfying the greed of the wealthy and powerful would be very different. In a world where we made decisions to meet our needs working in a cooperative economy would see the benefits of AI and other previous eras of technological advancement, this technology would not be a threat to a worker struggling to compete, but an empowered worker could see it as an opportunity to make life easier. But alas workers hold little to no legal power under capitalism. Tactics that work for workers in the past have mostly been outlawed.
So, the reality is that we are in the midst of a technological evolution that I might compare to the industrial revolution. The Information age has boomed with instant access to anyone just about anywhere at any time. Computers have come into homes and migrated to everyone’s pockets in just a few short years. AI will improve. Mark my words, a company like Adobe will buy up an AI startup and one will become the industry standard with virtual monopoly. It will be expected that artists are able to crank out more for cheaper. This already has happened in this century with the technology that eliminated the need for artists unique skill sets. On one hand, in my lifetime I have watched companies like Adobe made doing design and illustration work more accessible for those with far less technical training and skill. In response to this technology jobs started to dry up. I was watching a documentary about Mickey Mouse recently and they seemed proud that what once took the labor and skill of a room of working artists was now done by just two guys in a room on their computers. How does Disney save on labor when they reduced it to just two guys and computers that replaced entire departments? Well the tasks that people have been able to do that automation can not do needs to be automated.
You can argue how pure or natural art by a human is as opposed to a machine all you want. Capitalism does not care. Those who pay our rulers the lobbyists like Disney who has spent decades adjusting the Intellectual Property law here in the USA to benefit their shareholders pockets will be setting the standards here legally. The working artists do not have the kind of billions required to purchase laws like the corporations that run this country do.
What is to be done? Well, revolution of course, but that was needed centuries ago. Jay Gould, businessman and railroad owner knew the reality of the situation and the power he had when he said “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” And if you take a look at labor history you will see this has been done quite a bit. It is perfectly acceptable to those who hold power through wealth if we have conflict among ourselves. They want to see the working class competing and fighting for what table scraps they brush off the table so graciously. They do not want us working together in solidarity with our own class against their exploitation. They benefit from a competitive economy. Most of them were born dealt a winning hand. We see these silver spoon spoilt brats who command power and money all the time in the news these days. They buy the highest offices in the country if they wish, they buy your favorite social media platforms and they decide who wins and fails.
You can learn to live with AI and realize that this competition is going to get tighter so that those who own everything can have more, or we can abolish capitalism. Guess which seems most likely? I’m sure a few folks will find niche boutiques where they can go to for human art and human creativity, but let’s be honest, those who are able to afford to do that are most likely able to do so out of elements of financial advantage they have over other working class folks. The legal perimeters around this technology will be heard out in the courts and by lawmakers. The winner of these court cases will be Disney and Adobe, you don’t have a chance against them. Disney made an empire taking the work of creators and artists and placing laws up so that you can not yourself do as they did with the work of others. Unless the conversation becomes one explicitly challenging capitalism, then we lose yet again. There are voices of dissent that are far outside the overton window because global capitalism will “pay one half of the working class to kill the other half” in effort to keep it’s dominance, power and wealth.