Feng Xiang is a prominent Chinese legal scholar with an appointment at Tsinghua University; in a new Washington Post editorial adapted from his recent speech at the Berggruen Institute's China Center workshop on artificial intelligence in Beijing, he argues that capitalism is incompatible with AI.
Xiang argues that AI will automate away more and more jobs, and that under capitalism, the shareholders of firms that benefit from this automation will insist that the companies shed the workers and transfer the gains to them. Eventually, you end up with a tiny shareholder elite with all the money, and a vast pool of "obsolete" workers with no money, and the economy collapses (cue the guillotines).
By contrast Xiang argues that Chinese megafirms like Alibaba and Tencent "are monitored by the state and do not regard themselves as above or beyond social control" and will be amenable to having their assets shared among everyone — customers, workers, and shareholders.
It's a provocative notion, albeit a chauvinistic one that assumes that the Chinese model of authoritarianism "market socialism" will be able to shed its corruption, indifference to human rights, and capture by its own oligarch class once abundance is in hand.
The dream of communism is the elimination of wage labor. If AI is bound to serve society instead of private capitalists, it promises to do so by freeing an overwhelming majority from such drudgery while creating wealth to sustain all.
If the state controls the market, instead of digital capitalism controlling the state, true communist aspirations will be achievable. And because AI increasingly enables the management of complex systems by processing massive amounts of information through intensive feedback loops, it presents, for the first time, a real alternative to the market signals that have long justified laissez-faire ideology — and all the ills that go with it.
Going forward, China's socialist market economy, which aims to harness the fruits of production for the whole population and not just a sliver of elites operating in their own self-centered interests, can lead the way toward this new stage of human development.
AI will spell the end of capitalism [Feng Xiang/Washington Post]
(via Beyond the Beyond)
(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY)