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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Big tech is bad. Big A.I. will be worse.

Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson
The New York Times
Originally posted 15 June 23

Here is an excerpt:

Today, those countervailing forces either don’t exist or are greatly weakened. Generative A.I. requires even deeper pockets than textile factories and steel mills. As a result, most of its obvious opportunities have already fallen into the hands of Microsoft, with its market capitalization of $2.4 trillion, and Alphabet, worth $1.6 trillion.

At the same time, powers like trade unions have been weakened by 40 years of deregulation ideology (Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, two Bushes and even Bill Clinton). For the same reason, the U.S. government’s ability to regulate anything larger than a kitten has withered. Extreme polarization, fear of killing the golden (donor) goose or undermining national security means that most members of Congress would still rather look away.

To prevent data monopolies from ruining our lives, we need to mobilize effective countervailing power — and fast.

Congress needs to assert individual ownership rights over underlying data that is relied on to build A.I. systems. If Big A.I. wants to use our data, we want something in return to address problems that communities define and to raise the true productivity of workers. Rather than machine intelligence, what we need is “machine usefulness,” which emphasizes the ability of computers to augment human capabilities. This would be a much more fruitful direction for increasing productivity. By empowering workers and reinforcing human decision making in the production process, it also would strengthen social forces that can stand up to big tech companies. It would also require a greater diversity of approaches to new technology, thus making another dent in the monopoly of Big A.I.

We also need regulation that protects privacy and pushes back against surveillance capitalism, or the pervasive use of technology to monitor what we do — including whether we are in compliance with “acceptable” behavior, as defined by employers and how the police interpret the law, and which can now be assessed in real time by A.I. There is a real danger that A.I. will be used to manipulate our choices and distort lives.

Finally, we need a graduated system for corporate taxes, so that tax rates are higher for companies when they make more profit in dollar terms. Such a tax system would put shareholder pressure on tech titans to break themselves up, thus lowering their effective tax rate. More competition would help by creating a diversity of ideas and more opportunities to develop a pro-human direction for digital technologies.

The article argues that big tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, have already accumulated too much power and control. I concur that if these companies are allowed to continue their unchecked growth, they will eventually become too powerful and oppressive because of strength of AI compared to the limited thinking and reasoning of human beings.