Opinion: AI will do away with capitalism as we know it

Stephen Hinton 2016, photo Maj-Lis Koivisto

Some investment visionaries are rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation of what AI (artificial intelligence) can do and what they can earn from it. AI has already shown that it can, cheaper and better, do the jobs of warehouse workers, doctors, lawyers and so many other professions. We ask the question what if it could do the job of investing better than capitalists themselves? How would that work? Would capitalism as a way of providing what we need become outdated?

For a long time now, the liberal attitude is that private enterprise, driven by greedy but well-meaning people with money they want to see grow is the best in class problem-solver. Transport? Enter the Henry Fords. Internet services? Enter Googles. Shopping online? Enter Amazons. A sustainable, equitable society? Enter … well we are waiting.

It only takes a short flight of the imagination to see the potential. Already, city developers and other experts are painstakingly developing the workings of something that could change the very logic of investment forever: cities that work for people, owned by people, supported by AI.

City infrastructure – power, transport, waste handling, commerce, water etc., key to creating sustainable cities, cannot be left to individual contractors and private investment to get the city quickly on the path to sustainability. Consultants like Resilience.io are offering infrastructure design applications that optimise infrastructure, use the latest and most sustainable solutions available, and end up often reducing investment needs by as much as 40%.

It is only a short step away to applications like those from Resilience.io can begin writing requests for tenders and indeed legal agreements. In fact, AI could start to propose whole company structures with business plans accompanied by full financial analysis.

So how about planning a city? One not just with an infrastructure that is eco-friendly, circular economy, but one that affords all citizens a decent life? And that includes the city’s vast hinterland. If AI can write songs, stories, design products, prepare legal cases it could well design not only spaces but ownership patterns, investment instruments, jobs, organisations, indeed whole cities.

Now, the wealth created from investment seldom trickles down to the poorer inhabitants. Current capitalist or even social democratic approaches are simply not cutting it.

Suppose, then, that this AI system gets tasked to design optimal sustainable infrastructure along with the optimal ownership pattern of the companies building and running the infrastructure and benefit for residents.

This is new. Under capitalism and social democracy firms produce primarily for profit rather than need. In this proposal, the firms should produce primarily for need. Obviously, one driving force, the possibility to earn money, should be there for private enterprises.

I imagine the AI system might come up with some form of Public Private Partnership. The firms building and operating the infrastructure are 50% owned by private interests, and 50% owned by an investment firm where every city resident is an investor and has equal voting rights.

In this way, not only does the city get great infrastructure, but the better the firm runs, the more dividend goes to residents (and private investors). And citizens get to have a say. One share gives one vote. They might even want to buy more shares if they believe in the company.

As they own part of the infrastructure residents might even be interested in looking after it, reporting faults, handling it with care, etc.

Maybe AI can be the force to help us get past the current impasse of capitalist/socialist – left/right outdated thinking?

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