Saturday, October 29, 2011
Just returned from the Occupy Fairbanks march. I wasn’t dressed for the weather, a clear, relatively mild day (13 °F), and had to bail before all the speeches were done. About 40 people marched, pretty much the same crowd I saw when I protested the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike those protests, this time I didn’t see any passers-by flipping us off or screaming insults. There are a few people camping out in a city park in solidarity with other protesters around the world, but they are having problems with the city and police. Nothing major yet. I've read in the news how other cities are holding their fire against Occupy protesters because they think the coming winter weather will do the job for them. It seems to me that Fairbanks protesters might have some cold weather expertise to share.
Though the Occupy movement has no generally accepted list of demands yet, I agree with most of the ones I’ve heard: breaking up financial institutions that are too big to fail, bringing criminal charges against the managers and executives of institutions that caused the recession with illegal activities, ending the wars, ending corporate welfare, and so on.
My biggest beef is with the Supreme Court that, beginning with the 14th amendment in the 19th century, declared corporations to be persons with civil rights. I’m concerned about the political power that major corporations are able to muster with large amount of money, of course, but being a science fiction writer, I can’t help projecting my worries beyond the current situation to the not-to-distant future when science has invented true Artificial Intelligence.
Corporations are cleverly crafted machines, and machines do not have to be sentient to have an agenda and the means to pursue it. Their ultimate purpose is profit, not providing products or services. Products and services are merely the means to that profit. They have no inherent interest in human affairs, the planet, justice, or any other issue insofar as it doesn’t turn a profit. They are eternal entities but not very good at looking at the long-term consequences of their actions. A corporation will catch and sell the last fish in the ocean before it wonders where all the fish have gone. Supposedly people drive corporations, but it seems clear to me that the bigger and more successful a corporation becomes the more the corporation drives its board of directors and executives. If they do not serve its purposes (profit), they are discharged.
Thus the corporate model is a perfect, ready made immortal “body” for an immortal AI to move into. When AIs arrive on the scene, I imagine they may have a hard time winning their own civil rights at first. The same people who give corporations a pass on social issues will object to conferring equal rights to soulless, unchristian AIs. However, enterprising AIs will be able to incorporate themselves and step right into personhood. In this sense the coming Singularity may look something like a hostile takeover.