Artificial Intelligence and the Rise of the Useless Class

Popular intellectual Yuval Noah Harari warns that the AI revolution will create a new class of people: those too useless to continue being functioning members of our society. But does this prophetic warning spell the future of our race, or is there a better way forward?

 
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In April, 2023, TikTok user ghostwriter977 released the song “Heart on my sleeve”—reaching 15 million views on TikTok. The song featured Drake and The Weeknd, two of the most lucrative money-makers in the music industry—except the two artists had not performed it. The song was AI-generated; their voices cloned. Eventually it was flagged for copyright and taken down by Universal Music Group (UMG). There was no way for the average listener to distinguish between the artists they love and the artificial intelligence used to emulate them. Suddenly, UMG was faced with the prospect that these two artists were essentially worthless.

AI is confronting everyone on the planet with an unprecedented identity crisis. Its ability to emulate the faces, voices and mannerisms that make us unique is causing all sorts of concerns and questions to emerge. What is the value of a human? How do we quantify that value? Popular public intellectual and author Yuval Noah Harari, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote the bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He has shown up in many news magazines around the world with this idea that what we’re witnessing right now is because of AI. He refers to this problem as the rise of “the useless class of human beings”. According to Harari, as AI takes jobs that anybody might do, a large class of human beings will become increasingly useless. “In the 21st century we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This ‘useless class’ will not merely be unemployed—it will be unemployable.” He says the most important question in 21st century economics may be: what should we do with all the superfluous people? For example, AI is currently capable of 425 quadrillion calculations per second. To put that into perspective, hypothetically, if a human could do just one calculation per second, you’d need 13 billion years plus to match the capacity of AI. Harari says, “Ninety-nine per cent of human qualities and abilities are simply redundant for the performance of most modern jobs.” He contends that AI and robotics will replace doctors, accountants, drivers, teachers, landlords, wait staff, proofreaders, airline pilots, pharmacists, lawyers and more.

imageLet’s look at doctors as an example. One of the leading causes of death in the United States is physician error. Not only will doctors be replaced, especially surgeons, but Harari suggests that it will become illegal for a human being to perform surgery. If a margin of error exists that puts patients’ lives in danger when performed by a human being and very little (if any) margin of error when a machine does the same, every person given a choice would be stupid not to choose the machine. The machine will not have a hand tremor, a bad day or a hangover.

Relationships are also under threat. Some years ago, Forbes magazine covered the very first robot brothel opening in Spain, driving tourism through the ceiling. Soon you will be able to order a perfect companion online, perfectly suited for your tastes and far more intelligent than any human you could converse with. In Japan, at least three men have had public weddings to robots. You can now have an AI robot spouse, an AI robot friend or an AI robot pet, rendering human contact unnecessary.

Harari goes on, “In the 21st century, we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class.” That means, he says, we’re going to have to create something called a universal basic income. The government and an elite wealthy class are going to have to trickle down a bit of money to the common folk to buy food and have shelter.

All of this raises a very important question: What is a human being? Well, there are two radically divergent stories that make a claim to articulate human identity for us. The first story says that 13.8 billion years ago, there was a massive explosion called the Big Bang and everything in the universe is the result of the long chain that emerged from that one event. Reality is just material substance-matter. This worldview is called materialism. It states that we are just a series of chemical processes.

The second story says that human beings are creatures of tremendous dignity, beauty and potential, not merely for the work they do, but for their capacity to love like God loves. In this story, human beings were made in the image of God. A human being, from God’s standpoint, has a value equal to the value of God’s own life, which is a tremendous thought to process.

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In the first story, the Big Bang, Harari deduces: “Free will is a myth, inherited from Christian theology. Humans have no natural rights, just as spiders, hyenas and chimpanzees have no natural rights.” He begins with free will because it is the mechanism in human psychology and spirituality that produces the capacity for love. And according to the materialistic worldview, love itself is an illusion. Everybody who claims to love is simply using love as a very sophisticated form of survival of the fittest. True altruism does not exist. Selflessness does not exist. The capacity for novelty and creativity is nothing more than a chemical process. Harari claims, “As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific standpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose.” His conclusion: “Any meaning that people ascribe to their lives, is just a delusion.” If you think that the feelings that exist between you and your child are of any significance, Harari wants you to understand they are of no significance whatsoever.

By reducing humans to mere production machines, popular science has concluded humans will be of lesser value than AI and robotics. Harari warns that as a large class of human beings become increasingly useless, they become disposable and those with most power and economic strength will devise ways and means to reduce the surface population of the earth; to create systems that will remove large number of human beings as they themselves take refuge in multi-million-dollar bunkers and emerge to a utopian world they imagine they deserve.

According to American biologist, researcher, theorist and author EO Wilson, “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Palaeolithic emotions, Medieval institutions and godlike technology. It is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.” He is essentially saying our moral maturity is no match for the technology we’ve created. We can’t help ourselves. With corporations run by board members looking for a financial bottom line that makes them and their shareholders wealthier this quarter than they were the previous quarter, there’s no way that self-control will win.

imageBut there’s good news. “You know that it was not with perishable things, such as silver or gold, that you were redeemed [purchased] from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors. You were actually purchased with the precious blood of Christ. A lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18). This is the apostle Peter talking, a close friend of Jesus and leader of the early Christian church. He says that Jesus came to purchase us, to save us from “an empty way of life” into a life that is very full. The emptiest way you could possibly exist is to estimate your value based on the economic bottom line that you can produce for the world economic system. You are worth far more than that. Here, in this passage of Scripture, Peter equates the value of your life and my life with the life of Jesus. God looks at you and God estimates your value as equivalent to His own.

You are valuable, costly and rare. It’s hard to imagine, because we know ourselves and sometimes we doubt our own significance. But from God’s standpoint, God looks at you, and you alone, as if there were not another human being in all the universe to love. Jesus did not die for a mass of nameless consumers. Jesus died for you by name. He knows everything you’ve experienced. Every heartache, every pain, every joy. The God of the universe has estimated your value and loves you with a love that is so massive He was willing to die forever rather than to live without you.

French actress Anouk Aimee says, “Cosmic upheaval is not so moving as a little child pondering the death of a sparrow in the corner of a barn.” AI cannot replace the giggle of a little girl with her friends. AI cannot replace the look of adventure in the eyes of a teenage boy. AI cannot replace the deep sense of security and trust in the sex that occurs between a husband and a wife. AI cannot replace the joy of creating a piece of art. AI cannot replace the empathy of a friend in a time of crisis. AI cannot replace the image of God’s love reflected in all our relational dynamics. I invite you to embrace the biblical narrative that, unlike the materialistic worldview, can give you a deep sense of significance and meaning like nothing this world has to offer.

Ty Gibson is the director for Light Bearers and pastor of Storyline Adventist Church. He is a passionate communicator who teaches on a variety of topics, emphasising God’s unfailing love as the central theme of the Bible. Ty and his wife Sue have three adult children and two grandsons.

This article was taken from a talk that can be accessed here.

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