Generative AI and rapacious capitalism

Some people have claimed that Large Language Models like ChatGPT will do for wordsmiths like me what automation has been doing to tradesfolk for centuries. They’re wrong. Nevertheless, there will be people who lose their jobs because of generative algorithms. This won’t be because they can be replaced, but instead because of rapacious capitalism. To put it in plainer terms, because their management is a bunch of dicks.

Case in point: Recent news that the National Eating Disorder Association turned off its hotline chatbot after the chatbot started giving people dangerous advice. To be clear, the dangerous advice was an entirely predictable outcome. The development of specialized chatbots involves putting an extra layer of training on top of an LLM that has been trained on the whole internet. Although this extra training is described as guardrails, it’s a blackbox of stochastic nudging. So there will probably— perhaps inevitably— be a path which leads the algorithm to echo any dark corner of the internet. Fat-shaming is sufficiently ubiquitous so as to be baked in to the LLM.

Importantly, NEDA did not implement the chatbot in the first place because it could do what human hotline operators could do. Rather, it did so in reaction to the hotline operators unionizing and demanding fair wages. They don’t want to pay for humans to do the difficult and exhausting work of caring for people. Humans were replaced not because a machine could do their job, but because management cared more about saving money than about getting the job done.

Similarly: There are artists who have lost work because of image generation algorithms. Although current algorithms do impressive things, they can’t functionally do more than what a good library of stock images already did. Getting good illustrations and working them into attractive design requires time and skill. Management may use the existence of the algorithm as an excuse to pay less for the time and skill of graphic designers and illustrators, but its an excuse.

To return to my job, maybe I will at some point be fired and replaced with a machine— not because current algorithms can do what I do, but because it’s possible that management will sell me out. There are plenty of threats to higher education, and maybe I’ll get sold out regardless. So it’s not the algorithms. It’s the rapacious capitalism.

a Victor mouse trap

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