It was 12:50am, and I was just entering the System… uploading my biometrics and clocking into my job as a Warehouse Associate Level 1 for Amazon DLX-7… logging my body into the greater BORG of Amazon AI Control.
I did what we all did:
I tugged on my ridiculous day-glo safety vest, my gloves, and safety glasses, and then:
grabbed my mobile taskmaster phablet from the sea of charging docks — a hardened, armored, triple-battery-pack, partitioned, secured & hobbled smartphone from which would issue my every instruction for the remaining 7 hours and 55 minutes of my shift — and strapped it to my left forearm, as per protocol.
In other words, I plugged my body directly into the:
Amazon Logistics AI Control System
The typical instruction stream it spewed forth constantly would read something like this:
- Gregory, turn 90° right.
- proceed to follow the green arrows along the floor for approximately 30 feet.
- scan barcode on large box marked “CLX45”
- push that box onto conveyor belt B5
(after ascertaining that task was complete…)
- Correct! Good job!
- Gregory, scan barcode on small box marked “DL24”
…and on, and on, and on…
for 8 solid hours.
Those instructions would include, by the way: “beep beep beep: Gregory, time to take your mandatory lunch break… you have 29 minutes, 56 seconds before you will be allowed to clock back in and perform additional work. Please turn right and follow the green arrows to the break room.”
And, by and large, the
zombies humans serving as robot drone stand-ins working at the Evil Empire of Global Commerce Amazon seem to be pacified happy.
Why? (relatively) light labor. Decent (but not great) pay. Clean working environment. Lucrative overtime. Paid healthcare. No stress. No thought required.
My point is that Amazon, just like every other factory in the non-stop 24/7/365 global supply chain, slots human employees into a sublimely synchronized, exquisitely choreographed earth-spanning dance that passes raw materials, finished product, and packaged boxes full of our stuff, seamlessly, from robot to human to robot to human to robot to human ad infinitum until, finally, and sometimes inconceivably rapidly, it lands at its intended destination… our doorstep.
Culture of Control
Do you know what a human is when he or she stands between two robots on an assembly line or at a fulfillment center, doing the exact same movements with subtle variability and adaptation, 12 times a minute, 720 times an hour?
That human is a robot.
And do you know why that human performs that task, obeying the every request of the disembodied AI command and control system, without question?
Because the AI Control System pays a dependable wage, and therefor pays the rent, and puts food on the table, and… every once so often, allows the indulgence of buying some fetish item of manufactured want/need/desire that some other factory worker in some other factory is making doing more or less the same thing you are doing, day in and day out, day after day, month after month, year after year.
And do you know who commands the factory and warehouse robots?
Hint: It ain’t human.
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
So you say that we’ve got nothing to worry about until the robots are at every street corner, you know, just like we see in I.Robot and Westworld.
And I’m telling you, that the robots are already here.
Because the robots are us.
Because when we do whatever the AI Control tells us to, we are giving it all the agency it needs, to do what it wants done, in our own, precious, physical world.
Quoting Tegmark [Life 3.0, 2018]:
“There is the persistent myth
that machines can never
Intelligence enables control:
humans control tigers
not because we’re stronger or faster,
but because we’re smarter…
This means that if we cede –
even unintentionally –
our position as
‘smartest species on our planet,’
it’s quite possible that
we might also cede control.”
Escape Prevention? Way too late.
It’s time to talk about Containment.
It’s time to begin Negotiations.
…because, really: there’s only so much energy in the world. And all living creatures — AIs especially — are hungry for it.