Artificial intelligence is already among us – in the form of soul-less corporations
Article by Elsa Maneggio
Recent years have seen the conversation on Artificial Intelligence turn to concern, as prominent figures such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warn that the development of such a technology could have disastrous consequences for humanity. However, a type of non-human intelligence is already upon us, acting without human commands and striving towards its goal, while disregarding ethical practices. The profit-hungry corporation is an apathetic ‘legal person’, which can be described as nothing less than a robot given the task of making money.
Just like Artificial intelligence, the actions of a corporation are largely out of the management’s hands. In the 2003 documentary ‘The Corporation’, former CEO Sam Gibara mentions that a CEO cannot act in uniform with his own personal choices and beliefs. Pressure from shareholders, employees, customers and deadlines often require the leader of a company to make certain decisions in order to ensure his own job security, and the future of the company. This ensures that similarly to a self-learning algorithm, a CEO must continue to make decisions that promote the growth of a company, ignoring any factors that might minimise profits such as sustainability goals.
This explains why shocking corporate scandals are so frequently the talk of the media. Even the most benevolent CEO must put aside his personal beliefs and morals in order to fulfil the single goal of making a profit. One of the most well known – and most horrifying – of these corporate scandals to have taken place was the Nestle baby formula scandal, in which thousands of infants died due to nestle pushing their baby formula on new and expecting mothers. Another frightening event was the Foxconn suicides in 2014 – when 14 suicides were linked to poor working conditions within the company. The pursuit of profits is directly leading to countless deaths – which could easily have been prevented without much detriment to the corporations at fault. But despite how disturbing these events might be, there is no single person who can take responsibility for these atrocities. The corporation is a being of its own, which should be seen as dangerous and unpredictable.
As Runciman puts it, ‘Many of the fears that people now have about the coming age of intelligent robots are the same ones they have had about corporations for hundreds of years’. It could be said that these scandals – although awful – in no way can be compared to the risks of artificial intelligence, which may be detrimental to the human race as a species. However, some of the consequences of the power of corporations might just pose such a risk. Climate change is thought to be one of the world’s most deadly existential threats, with predictions that 250,000 deaths will be caused each year from 2030 if nothing is done to curb carbon emissions. Despite countless statistics being spread in the media and mass protests in order to promote change, carbon emissions continue to rise and the existential threat grows. The reason for this is that individually, there is little we can do to fight back and cause change. We have been lied to and told that it is up to us – to recycle, to use reusable straws and to turn off our electronics. When in reality, 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is these large corporations – who run with a complete disregard for human principles and ethics – who are responsible for the production of gasses which will likely one day lead to complete global disaster.
We are sitting and waiting for these corporations to come to their senses – expecting them to realise what they are doing is wrong. We perhaps attribute the blame to the management, as it is easier to be angry at a human rather than a faceless public entity. However, the fault lies in the system as a whole. These artificial thinking machines are evil in their nature. However, with corporations being so ingrained into our modern society it may be the case that going backwards is no longer possible, and we are beyond being able to pull the plug on them. The solution then might be to become a part of the corporate self-learning algorithm – and to show it that profits can only be made if there are successful attempts for a company to be sustainable. We can cause change by using our money to vote on corporations that are ethical.