Intelligence is not Artificial

Why the Singularity is not Coming any Time Soon And Other Meditations on the Post-Human Condition and the Future of Intelligence

by piero scaruffi
Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence | Bibliography and book reviews | My book on consciousness | Contact/feedback/email
(Copyright © 2018 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")

The Dangers of Machine Intelligence: Amplifying Human Evil (or A.I. in The Economy of Hate)

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser wrote that "hatred is the result of an equilibrium where politicians supply stories of past atrocities in order to discredit the opposition and consumers listen to them" ("The Political Economy of Hatred" (2002). The real problem, however, is not the viciousness of the politicians: it is the willingness of the public to listen to stories of hatred. Increasingly, entrepreneurs are realizing that hatred "sells". The Economy of Hate is the entertainment industry that has mushroomed around the need for hatred in the age of mass media. Television and Internet platforms have amplified the phenomenon because they rely on advertising revenues and advertising revenues depend on number of viewers, and it turns out that hatred is a simple and effective generator of viewers; the more incendiary the better. Social-networking platforms (or, at least, their algorithms) encourage this economy of hate. They have a vested interest that you hate, and that you are hated back. It is nothing new. Jerry Springer made a fortune and became an icon of US television with a talk-show, debuted in 1991, in which his guests were insulting each other and even fist-fighting on stage. Nevermind that it was voted "worst show of all times" in a TV Guide viewers poll of 2002: it remained a hit throughout the 2000s and survived in the 2010s. When it declined in the mid 2010s, it was promptly replaced by a president of the country who transferred precisely Springer's hateful tone and tactics into politics. While theoretically more upscale, the contemporary Montel Williams Show was not much better, with guests designed to be despised by the audience such as a teenage girl who boasted of having already had more than 100 sexual partners and a serial rapist of prostitutes committed to spreading AIDS in that profession. Their ratings depended on how vulgar and violent their guests were, and the rating translated into money for their TV channel, which therefore de facto encouraged the most vulgar and violent exchanges. Millions of people have been watching the matches of the World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest wrestling promotion in the world, founded in 1979 in Massachusetts as Titan Sports by Vince McMahon; except that its matches are fake, staged and scripted. The viewers cannot possibly be attracted by the sporting events themselves: they are attracted by the ritual around these matches, that consist in hate-filled insults by each wrestler against the other. Television simply broadcast hate to a wider audience, but the passion for displays of hate was already there. To this day the cruel entertainment of "la corrida" (bull-fighting) is legal in Spain, and "sabong" (cock-fighting) remains a top entertainment in the Philippines (the five-day World Slasher Cup is held in the Araneta Coliseum of Manila). Boxing has been a favorite Western sport since at least the 18th century. Throughout history, public executions have always attracted large crowds of cheering viewers.

Now that public executions are no longer public spectacles, the public can watch "virtual" executions on social media or television in which the victims are insulted and defamed in the most atrocious manners. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 holds that content platforms (such as a social-networking platform) are not responsible for the speech they host. It doesn't say that the platforms should make money out of hate speech but it turns out that is precisely what it allows them to do. Defamation laws protect free speech more than your reputation. Alas, your reputation can easily be monetized by anyone attacking it. For example, in 2017 a user of the YouNow platform, Charles Marlowe, launched a vicious campaign against another user, Anna Scanlon. Scanlon claims that Marlowe lied and defamed her, but YouNow's algorithms are not design to decide what is true and what is false: they are designed to maximize YouNow's revenues. The more Marlowe insulted her, the larger his following became, and therefore the more profitable his account... for both him and for YouNow. YouNow's algorithm rewarded Marlowe for his growing number of followers. Most likely, a "recommendation algorithm" also helped spread the controversy to other users of the social network. Using sexist, racist and homophobic language is a plus. Fabricating conspiracy theories is another plus. The platform that financially rewards traffic as a generator of advertising money automatically rewards the hate-mongers. The problem is not bullying and harassment, but public bullying and harassment. Shifting to another field, imagine a political candidate who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War and still calls out a Vietnam war hero as a coward because this hero was taken prisoner while this political candidate was mainly busy having sex without wearing condoms (his own words): would you imagine that this political candidate may become the president of the USA? And imagine if this same candidate had previously invented a bogus conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the USA. Still: 63 million voters chose this very hatemonger. Given that A.I.'s most successful application is still that it calculates how to make Internet viewers click on links in order to maximize advertising profits, we'll soon have A.I. programs that help create as much "hate" as possible. (Changing defamation laws might help: in Britain, where defamation laws are not so protective of free speech, blogger Jack Monroe won a libel suit against defaming journalist Katie Hopkins, coincidentally a former contestant in the TV show Apprentice, at the time run by abovesaid future president).

The fact however remains that "hatred" sells and any algorithm designed for profit will inevitably tend to increase the amount of hatred if that is what maximizes profits. The more intelligent the algorithm, the more hatred it will create.

Back to the Table of Contents

Purchase "Intelligence is not Artificial"
Back to Cognitive Science | My book on consciousness | My reviews of books | Contact