Lives or luxuries?
Very soon the price of AI will be the lives of billions
In my previous post, I pointed out that so-called Artificial Intelligence, while not actually intelligent in any meaningful sense of the word, will rapidly destroy white collar jobs.
Some will disagree loudly. I get it. But it doesn’t matter at all what you think—or what I think. There is probably nothing we can do to stop it, so within the next five to ten years, the truth will be obvious to all but the most devout technophiles.
But the loss of white collar jobs, and the catastrophe that will be for the world economy (not to mention the lives of the families of former white-collar workers now struggling to make ends meet in low-wage service jobs, if they have jobs at all), is not the most terrifying aspect of “AI”.
The most terrifying aspect of AI is the literally billions of human lives (not to mention other fauna and flora) that it is going to kill. And no, I am not making this shit up.
It’s the energy, stupid
As “AI” can do pretty much everything short of wiping your ass (wait… can it do that, too?), its use will grow exponentially. That means “very, very quickly” for the math challenged among us. And getting faster faster.
It may have escaped some of us, but “AI” runs as software. That means it needs hardware. That hardware may be hidden away in heavily-guarded “server farms” outside of various world metropolises, but it must exist. AI does not live in the æther, no matter what our overheated “imaginations” tell us.
And it already draws enormous energy. Partly, this is the daily dose of electric power it needs to run. But there is also the power and other resources needed to mine the materials required, to build and maintain that hardware, to transport everything all over the globe, and to rid ourselves of the waste when the hardware is decrepit or obsolete.
That’s a lot of energy. Where is that going to come from?
It will come from food
Ha, ha. Say what? From food? What, we’re going to feed our AIs?
Yes. That is precisely what we are going to do.
Server farms, power lines, mines, factories, roads, etc. all take up land that cannot then be used to grow food. But that’s the least of it.
As we burn through the remaining oil and gas reserves ever faster, we will turn to other forms of power generation. One of the most popular and getting more popular in the West is biomass.
Biomass is trees. Don’t let them tell you differently. Some portion can come from agricultural waste, but not nearly enough. And that assumes we’re still doing agriculture.
Already, whole forests are falling to the blade to make wood pellets to feed into the biomass furnaces. Plant power for power plants. You can’t make this shit up.
Trees grow on land that could be used to grow food. When it comes down to feeding millions—billions—over there in those unseen “foreign” lands or keeping the AI running for the “golden billion” in the West, who do you think will win?
How many in the West, truthfully now, have given up even a fraction of their wildly profligate use of energy to help save the climate and all life on Earth? And do you really think, then, that they will give up AI to save “the children” in Uruguay or Nigeria?
AI is a voracious beast that will eat the world. But for those idolaters for whom AI is the ultimate idol, so what? Yeah, it’s killing people. But no one I know.
When we get truly desperate, we’ll turn back to nuclear power—the most toxic and deadly of all human activities—and then we will be well and truly fucked. And on this count, I definitely know what I’m talkin’ about.
It has already happened
You might think I’m exaggerating, or that I’ve lost my mind completely. But it has already happened, just on a slightly smaller scale.
Throughout the so-called “developing world” (actually, the exists-to-be-exploited world)—the “Global South”—corporations from the “Global North” have been buying up land once used for subsistence farming and turning it to “cash crops”.
This has been happening for decades.
What happened to the subsistence farmers, who once lived lightly on the land and were peasants, but not poor?
Simple: either they went to work for meager wages on the fields they had once owned, or they migrated to the overcrowded cities to become slave labor in the factories.
There, if they were lucky, they got shit wages to work in dangerous, often toxic conditions for long hours six or seven days a week. While their families lived in cardboard boxes drinking from poisoned streams and rivers.
And that doesn’t include the tens of thousands committing suicide.
Is that everyone’s experience? No. But in varying degrees, it is the common experience.
And what were once mostly organically-managed small farms are now big agribusiness lots saturated with petroleum products in the form of insecticides, fertilizers, and more. Or feed lots with animals crammed into cages and pumped full of steroids and antibiotics.
Does anyone really think that the people who organized and carried out this ongoing atrocity in pursuit of power and profit—an atrocity that has killed or maimed tens or hundreds of millions and immiserated hundreds of millions more—will behave any differently when they see the power and profit that AI can generate for them?
If you believe that, then I am not the loonie here.
Oh, but it gets worse
I feel like we’re forgetting something here. What is it?
Oh, yeah. All that power generation and destruction of forests is accelerating the climate catastrophe. Note: not just maintaining our decline. Accelerating it.
As the climate worsens, the effects are beyond imagining. Disease vectors move. Whole species, unable to move with the change in climate, go extinct. We are already in the midst of the sixth great extinction.
And have you noticed that the climate has been a bit, um, unpredictable lately? That’s only going to get worse. Much, much worse.
Many will rush to disagree. Nonsense! they cry.
Well, I hope they’re right, but here’s a news flash: Nature doesn’t give a flying fuck what you think. I know. Shocking, isn’t it?
But actions have consequences and there will be no weaseling out of it when the bill comes due. Dine and dash won’t work. Where you gonna dash to? Mars?
If you’ve ever watched one of those “nature” shows on television, then you know this with certainty: nature has no mercy. None.
As the arable land disappears, so does the food. As the oceans heat up and the reefs die and the plastic islands grow ever bigger, so goes the food.
Do you see it yet? Look harder. “AI”, if we let it, is going to make all of this so much worse. And so much more certain.
But the golden billion will just scream for more border walls and guards and armies to keep the tech losers out, and Elon Musk will dangle Mars before their slavering faces, and yes, they will sacrifice their brothers and sisters and even their children for the sake of the ultimate toy, “AI”.
After all, are we not sacrificing all future generations already with our insane destruction of the biosphere? Are we not already tossing some forty thousand children into the dumpster every single day because we can’t be arsed to care about them?
Why would anyone think that’s going to change? Change only happens in response to a force. What will force us to care where we never have in all our history until now?
Look down that road
If I remember correctly, William S. Burroughs, in the preface to one of his books, discussed a lifetime of heroin addiction and some of the things that those not addicted do not know about addiction to heroin.
One of these was constipation. Heroin addicts are often terribly constipated. According to Burroughs, this sometimes required a trip to the hospital, where a device something like a giant corkscrew is used to drill the shit out of the addict’s rectum. Literally.
He finished his preface with this: Look down that road before you travel it.
Look down that road.
I suggest that we do the same.