I’m a long-time reader who loves what you’re doing. I’m wondering if all the hype surrounding AI is warranted. I keep seeing article after article saying AI’s going to take human jobs in every sector.
But nobody’s writing about my job and I have to admit, I’m a bit concerned. So, here’s my question: will artificial intelligence take my job?”
Hi God! Thanks for the kind words. I’ll cut right to the chase because I know you’re infinitely busy. Your concern hasn’t been misplaced.
I wish I had better news. The fact is, you’ve already been replaced by AI. Here’s a subheading break to give you time to let that sink in.
Your new mandatory religion
Look, the last thing I want to do is Godsplain religion to the religious. But, at the risk of looking like an unbiased journalist, I think we can take an objective look at the facts and come to a mutual understanding.
It all started on August 28, 1922, when an AT&T-owned radio station broadcasted a 15-minute real estate advertisement. The big idea was that people would tune in for news and entertainment but, because there wasn’t much in the way of alternatives, they’d sit through advertisements even if they were for products that the majority of listeners might not be interested in.
Essentially, AT&T gathered a congregation of self-interested pragmatists and turned them into a tradable commodity. By selling us back to the corporations and governments we work for, TELCOM turned the entire world into a “company store.”
Relax, that’s not a ham-fisted comparison of capitalism to religion. The two are fundamentally different. Capitalism funnels the dreams of the poor into the pockets of the wealthy. Religion offers a lifetime of hope to those willing to have faith. Your results may vary.
When AT&T aired that first advertisement, it placed a heavy thumb on the scales of trust and fairness in society. Essentially, it became a social terraformer at unprecedented scale by peddling something outside of its area of business expertise.
Today, that model has been extrapolated to the point where it’s more lucrative for big tech outfits to sell ads than it is to actually create technology. For example, more than 80% of Google’s revenue comes from paid advertising.
It’s the same with dozens of other big tech outlets. The question we need to answer — before we can explain why you’re out of a job, God — is “how is this possible?”
Luckily, that’s an easy question. It’s because we have faith. We’re so sure the humans building the future have our best interests in mind that we’re willing to close our eyes and let them take the wheel.
For they may work in mysterious ways, but as long as Spotify, Instagram, and LinkedIn are free they must surely be harmless.
Sorry God, but AI is our new religion and participation is mandatory.
Artificial stupidity with infinite reach
If you use Facebook, you generate data for Meta. Data it will use to sell advertisements. If you don’t use Facebook, that act in and of itself generates data for Meta. And Google. And Baidu. And so on and so forth.
In the year 2022, the “wisdom of the crowd” now decides everyone’s fate. Here’s what I mean:
- More than 80% of all adults use social media
- In order to personally regulate that many users without employing algorithms, we’d need approximately 2 billion humans employed full-time
- If ads weren’t effective on the internet, Google and Meta wouldn’t be among the top 10 richest companies in the world
Millions of people make their living on social media. It’s a “place” that really exists. We can’t get rid of it all together any more than we can just “get rid of fossil fuels” or “stop using electricity.” It’s part of the “metaverse” that everyone’s been talking about (but few truly understand).
In order to get from AT&T’s early radio shows to here, developers have had to “move fast and break things” via the advent and use of algorithmic influence.
Here’s the thing God, you and I both know that there’s no such thing as artificial intelligence. The smartest AI in the world is demonstrably dumber than a newborn opossum. Sure, OpenAI, Meta, Google, and DeepMind are getting incredibly good at prestidigitation and illusion-making in the form of transformer models.
But we know how the magicians do their tricks.
Where you and I see a machine that’s about as good at imitating humans as a Xerox copy machine that hallucinates, the rest of them have faith that because such a machine exists, it must mean we’re on the verge of creating sentience. Pride goeth before a fall, right?
Here’s the part that nobody’s talking about
Our new religion is called “The Global Church of Algorithmic Influence.” And everyone on Earth is a member whether they want to be or not.
The reason why the new religion is mandatory is that, much like God believes in atheists like me whether we believe in God or not, the algorithm has a direct impact on your life whether you participate or not.
What’s different here, is that even atheists have to believe in algorithms. We can demonstrate them using the scientific method and you can see them with your own eyes.
And there are countless algorithms influencing us at global scales beyond just advertising algorithms. But, let’s be honest, just the ad algorithms alone literally have more influence than God (no matter which God we’re talking about).
Let’s put that in simple marketing terms. If Nike invests 2% more in ad spending than Reebok, that’s a difference in global reach of 160 million (about half the population of the United States). That’s what having a global reach through advertising algorithms means.
And it also means there’s nothing we can do about it. You can’t stop the idea of using algorithms to guide social influence any more than you can force people to stop practicing one religion or start practicing another.
Algorithmic influence is ubiquitous, it affects your everyday life and long-term outcomes whether you choose to participate or not, and there are a definite set of rules you should follow if you want the algorithm’s blessings.
The reason this is a religion (and a mandatory one at that) can be defined by three factual statements:
- Algorithmic influence is demonstrable and unpredictable
- You cannot opt-out. You’re either influenced by algorithms or by those who are
- The algorithms are built with individuals’ biases which propagate through algorithmic influence causing humans to generate data reflecting the original bias
- We know algorithmic influence is real, and it works in mysterious ways
- The algorithm is within us all, and all of us are within the algorithm
- If we’re good, the algorithm will reflect (reward) that, and if we’re bad it’ll reflect (reward) that
If that isn’t religion, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good religion. It’s missing the most important component of any faith: free will.
It’s not that the religious want to turn away from God. They’re not killing you on purpose. It’s just easier for a camel to walk through the Eye of the Needle than it is for rich men to weigh potential harm against potential profits via any morality other than greed. Let’s not forget that, for example, it was the wisdom of the crowd that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
We didn’t stop listening to you, God. We just can’t hear you over the noise anymore.
The following quote is from Winston Churchill, 1935. It refers to communism, but I think it’s an apt description of algorithmic influence as well, as their aims are arguably the same:
“The communist theme aims at universal standardization. The individual becomes a function. The community is a loan of interest. Mass thoughts, dictated and propagated by the rulers are the only thoughts deemed respectable.”
Good luck, God. We’re all going to need it.
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