The first war between AI and human beings is being waged in America. We should take note of its scope and portent.
It’s being waged on two fronts, on the West Coast and in the Midwest, where creatives and autoworkers are resisting encroachment on their pay and jobs. The fight against AI replacing artists is more overt, but the automakers’ plans to produce EVs has the same underlying logic:
The entertainment and auto industries, as proxies for AI, plan to use it to remake their assembly lines.
If the AI side wins, it will mean less jobs for human beings and more revenue and profits for companies that don’t have to pay for salaries or health care. Both creatives and auto workers will suffer so that others, including unwitting consumers, can benefit from AI’s promised efficiencies.
It’s not surprising that both battles are being fought by unions. Protecting the interests of their members is a foundational idea for them. They’re taking action against a threat to their well-being.
Even though they’re the most organized resistance to the AI transformation of our economy and lives, they’re not powerful enough to win. This is especially true since their only weapon, beyond marching with placards and giving media interviews, is to refuse to work…which is exactly what AI will do to them permanently.
Every day the passes gives automakers and entertainment studios more time to plan for that eventuality. You could imagine furtive attempts to shoot content written solely by AIs, or factories speeding up conversion of activities to robot control.
Creatives and auto workers will eventually have to take some diluted deals that are little better than a placeholder (a settlement on the Hollywood front is rumored to be forthcoming), as there’s no stopping AI’s march to remake both industries in its image. The writing is on the wall and it’s digital.
The second war will be over education.
Teachers unions are another bastion of organized people and the livelihood of their members is directly threatened by AI. It’s only a matter of time before some of their lesson plans are delivered autonomously, followed by AI-assisted student assessments and curriculum development. Combined with remote access, there’s no reason why a properly trained LLM couldn’t run a classroom right now.
Better AI for that purpose can’t be far off.
That war will be less organized as the first one, since some teacher unions will embrace AI until it’s too late. Others will simply fold, as they have with their wholehearted acceptance of every tech gimmick that’s already been pushed into their classrooms.
And they’ll lose because their only true weapon will be a refusal to work, which will only encourage and speed the development of their AI replacements.
After teachers, there aren’t many adversaries with enough standing to oppose the AI advance. Maybe postal workers or other national or local government employees? Whatever unions are left in our economy may or may not step up to fight the next AI wars.
Same goes for more loosely organized professions, like lawyers or doctors, both of which are already seeing much of their work get automated. At some point, they may realize that they’re not just being assisted by such tech but risk being replaced by it, and try to do something about it.
They’ll lose, too, though we’ll be fed a steady media diet of all of the wonderful benefits AI will give us in exchange for taking away our jobs. Academics will opine on the so-called Big Picture, which will repeatedly tell us to ignore what we’re seeing with our eyes. Free market zealots will say we have nothing to worry because things just work out somehow and eventually. Investors will be thrilled.
Then the policing actions will begin.
Once the major unions and professional organizations have been beaten, the fight will shift to a more distributed and long-term policing action. It will pit individuals or small groups against the AI threat to things like privacy and personal autonomy, especially as more surveillance turns our every decision and action into data that can be used to influence those decision and actions.
A lot of individuals will consider this a wonderful innovation. Many more simply won’t be aware of it or consider the situation inescapable. Refusal to participate in automated services will be just about the only weapon available to those who chose to resist the transformation.
They, too, will not be able to hold out, as survival in a society that is automated will be difficult. Services will be unavailable. Access to opportunities will be curtailed. Shopping will be harder.
Maybe a few pockets of resistance will resort to violence, but it won’t matter. The media will vilify them as modern-day Luddites. The forces building and profiting from AI will be patient.
The last war will continue for however long it takes. It may never end. But neither will AI’s transformation of our world.
Is an AI victory inevitable?
No, but we need to change our perspective on how we think and talk about it.
Because we assume that AI is inevitable, the public conversation is almost exclusively limited to hoping we can make the tech fair, unbiased, and safe (whatever that means). Regulators think their job is to oversee an unlimited rollout of AI into every aspect of our lives.
Businesses are falling over themselves trying to find ways to put AI to work. Makers of the tech are singing its praises, even when they mention that it might annihilate us without proposing what we should do about it (other than implying that someone else should do something about it).
It’s a textbook definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead, we should see the First AI War for what it is: The opening salvo in a long-term conflict over how we want to live our lives.
We should see the issues for creatives and autoworkers as our issues, their battle as our fight, too. We should not only support them but strive to understand them and explore how we may have to contend with the same threat sooner or later.
We should demand that our politicians stop nipping at the edges of AI and start talking about the mammoth impacts it will have on our economy and society. Academics should prompt more inquiry into the social and psychological impacts of a world transformed by AI. Our religious leaders could talk more openly about how AI challenges our presumptions about our uniqueness.
If all of these groups stopped acting like happy early adopters and instead functioned as the thoughtful critics we need, then maybe we could imagine and develop solutions that worked for everyone.
But, we need to realize that what’s happening right now isn’t the First AI War.
It’s the beginning of the last one.