AGI: Artificial Governing Intelligence

Aaron Bastani’s long-awaited and oft-parodied Fully Automated Luxury Communism manifesto is finally out and, to celebrate the occasion, Novara Media has done its own long-form interview with their own founder to go over the book’s general insights and implications.

It’s an interesting chat that covers most of the current leftist hot topics but one question towards the end was pretty surprising to me in that it reminded me of Landian accelerationism…

Throughout the conversation, Bastani and James talk about markets on multiple occasions — how you can abolish capitalism without abolishing martkets; market socialism; and a few seemingly adjacent topics like how Universal Basic Services could be an alternative to (and prerequisite of) Universal Basic Income — and this all seems to come to a head at around 1:14:50 with a chat bar question: “Will artificial intelligence replace government?”

Bastani responds:

Paul Mason puts it really well in his present book, right? We’ve deferred for 35 years to this thing called “The Market”.

“Can we do this thing?” No, the Market says we can’t. “Why?” Well, the Market says we can’t.

How is that any different to a machine?

You’re saying, this protocol, this set of rules, which is solidified in this institution says no. That’s no different, fundamentally, to machine control because it’s taking agency away from human beings; it’s depoliticising the political.

So, in a sense, that’s already here — certainly in the cutting-edge of the neoliberal countries.

It’s a very familiar insight, albeit one we’re more used to hearing expressed from certain quarters with palpable glee…

What Bastani is describing is the cybernegativity of market circuitries, contrary to Land’s open embrace of the cyberpositive. What Bastani speaks to is perhaps closer to the porcine circuits of the market democracies described by Gilles Chatalet — and we might note that cybernegativity seems to be an enemy common to all three.

Bastani is against machine control in this context, presumably so long as it is grounded on this current deference to neoliberal market economies and, most importantly, their inequalities. Automation, then, must be retooled as a socialist form of machine control wherein it is we who control the machines rather than the machines that control us. It is this that then leads to a supposedly communist automation.

This makes sense for the means of production but, since communism is fundamentally anti-statist, requiring a different sort of political organisation altogether, the question of whether or not government is something even capable of being automated does pose an interesting problem — as is the suggestion that it already is automated. Still the question of how we shift our relationship to each other as well as our labour power lingers and, to me, it seems like a pretty big hole.

Does this mean we need to unautomate governance and unautomate communication alongside this more general push towards automated labour and intelligence?

It’s maybe best to end on this, from Bastani’s own New York Times article, further promoting the book with a Paul Masonic “radical optimism”:

So we have to go beyond capitalism. Many will find this suggestion unwholesome. To them, the claim that capitalism will or should end is like saying a triangle doesn’t have three sides or that the law of gravity no longer applies while an apple falls from a tree. But for a better world, where everyone has the means to a good life on a habitable planet, it is an imperative.

We can see the contours of something new, a society as distinct from our own as that of the 20th century from feudalism, or urban civilization from the life of the hunter-gatherer. It builds on technologies whose development has been accelerating for decades and that only now are set to undermine the key features of what we had previously taken for granted as the natural order of things.

To grasp it, however, will require a new politics. One where technological change serves people, not profit. Where the pursuit of tangible policies — rapid decarbonization, full automation and socialized care — are preferred to present fantasies. This politics, which is utopian in horizon and everyday in application, has a name: Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I guess!

But so far the platitudes don’t seem to be doing much for how people connect. And that’s not Bastani’s fault. Overcoming the cybernegative automation already present within our lives takes something else…

It makes me wonder how much Bastani’s “luxury” is compatible with a Nietzchean “decadence”… But that’s a post for another time…

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