Weekend Read: Artificial Intelligence

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

As human beings we name things. We classify objects and persons. These activities are the foundation of our pursuit of understanding: categorization. It may be that in classifying ourselves as homo sapiens—intelligent hominids—we set ourselves up for perpetual misunderstanding of ourselves. Lately some members of homo sapiens have convinced themselves that they have created intelligent machines, which they refer to as artificially intelligent – already projecting themselves onto their creations. More importantly, they claim that some of these machines are super-intelligent. These humans, unfortunately, possess significant power.

Many of them, such as the academic Yuval Noah Hararri, are powerful players at world-shaping institutions such as the WEF. They have already announced, with discomforting enthusiasm, how this technology will be the next great revolution in social planning, social engineering, social media censorship, giant data collection and analysis, new levels of digitization and technological centralization. The ability to generate facts, narratives, and images which serve/promote a particular ideology, and then to monopolize digital spaces for the inundating of these facts, narratives and images, will be categorically different from what we have previously witnessed.

Covid-19 was the most censored event in human history, due to intelligence community use of language-learning AI to censor online posts and information. With a totally digitized and centralized world, people will live in a matrix of carefully curated information: they will live as non-fictional characters in a fictional and digital world.

All of these radical and terrifying transformations—many of them already underway—are predicated on a more fundamental transformation in self-understanding, in who human beings are as. . .well, human beings. Thus, before attempting to cut through the much thornier territory of AI’s effects on political freedom, internet freedom, information integrity, etc., I will address the critical question of whether artificial  intelligence is intelligent in the human sense, and therefore, whether they represent a revolutionary revision in how we should view ourselves. The concise answer IT DOES NOT. AI is not intelligent in the human sense. AI is not conscious. AI does not understand language (semantically or syntactically), nor does it comprehend meaning. It has no unified perception.

A chatbot like ChatGPT does not understand language; rather, it has been fed about a trillion data points and has been programmed to analyze these word-and-image data points to predict which word would most reasonably follow the previous word. Because of the size of the data inputs, and due to the computational power of the algorithm, the chatbot’s predictions are almost always correct, giving the appearance of ChatGPT “using” or wielding language intelligently. The mechanism by which a chatbot uses language to “speak intelligibly” is completely un-mysterious. It is computational in nature, which is no surprise, since algorithms compute. That said though, it does not diminish the awesome, and potentially authoritarian, computational power of the technology.

Language is a universal and intuitive possession of human beings. The mechanism by which a unified field of perception arises—consciousness—and the mechanism by which human beings understand syntactical and semantic meanings is mysterious. As regards consciousness, the mechanism is entirely mysterious.

Unfortunately, consciousness is the very structure of our understanding, so we cannot claim to understand human beings without understanding consciousness. At the center of each of our understandings is an “I”, whom we identify with, whom we experience as free, whose every thought is our thought, whom we value intimately, whose inner life is our inner life, and whose every concern is our every concern. Therefore, the very act of understanding, for a human being, means to bring something in contact with this “I”, and to begin to value that something in relation to this “I”.

No such activities or types of understanding or self-understanding may be ascribed to any AI, for the simple reason that AI is not conscious, nor does it possess a sense of self. Therefore, since consciousness is ground zero of human understanding, emotion, and perception, AI is not a true or proper analogue of human intelligence, nor does it solve the mystery of consciousness, nor does it prove that minds are simply algorithms, nor does it prove that human intelligence is pre-programmed through evolution and therefore free will is an illusion. And yet, the secularist, anti-humanist elites are using AI as a premise to project two very damaging, very wrong and very dangerous conclusions.

First, they are claiming that AI shows intelligence is computational and algorithmic, and that with the advent of intelligent machines, human uniqueness as an “intelligent species” is no longer applicable. Furthermore, because AI creates its ‘intelligence’ as algorithmic and pre-programmed, human intelligence is similarly algorithmic and pre- programmed from millions of years of evolution, so therefore, if computers are not free, neither are human beings. Obviously, much of this is simply false in light of what is written above, but the obfuscations are so blinding, a deeper analysis is needed.

The story reaches back to the Enlightenment, and the age of empiricism which it fostered and which followed it when empirical science, due partly to its unprecedented success in answering natural philosophy questions, became the paradigm of true knowledge. Because empirical science became the paradigm of true knowledge, other forms of knowledge and knowing were excluded, such as revelation, intuition, a priori knowledge – entire disciplines lost great epistemological authority or prestige, including theology and philosophy, particularly metaphysics. All realities which could not be known through the methods of empirical science were now to be categorized as non-realities, or at best, useful fictions: God, objective moral duties and laws, beauty, spirit, goodness and meaning (in the ontological sense of both words), etc.

Of course, simply saying that human beings did not need an objective meaning to their lives did not mean that people stopped looking for meaning. It only meant that people took those existential urges, which had been previously satiated by religion, and looked for them to be satiated by another meta-societal enterprise: politics. The 20th century was the century of state religions and political doctrines of faith, prophets and high priests of the proletariat; instead of dying for God, people died for ideas such as equality, or “social justice”. Instead of killing in the name of God, people killed millions of others in the name of equality, or the “common good” or “social justice”. Political policies became infallibly divined dogmas, and those who spoke out against these policies were declared heretics, and killed, or locked away.

Human nature, human history, human experience, literature, art, culture—all of these tell us that meaning is real, that it must be sought by us, that we must find some sort of transcendent meaning if we are to declare our own lives “worth living”. In short: very recently in our history, human beings allowed the outrageous success of the scientific method to justify excluding all other forms of knowledge as trivial. This exclusion of religious ways of knowing did not actually do away with an deep religious urges; indeed, they resurfaced with particular ferocity in the 20th century. However, this exclusion of religious ways of knowing did lead to a deliberate obfuscation of who we are as human beings, and what we need to make ourselves sensible. Confusion engendered the lie that human beings did not need to believe in a higher power or purpose, which in turn led to people transforming non-religious activities into quasi-religious systems; the absence of meaning that came about with the Nietzchean “Death of God” was replaced by political projects that promised to be grand ethical adventures; people murdered millions of others with teleological enthusiasm, believing that sacrifice to the gods of equality, prosperity, or autonomy had to be constant. In truth, the 20th century was a return to primitive superstition and barbaric violence, despite the extraordinary scientific and technological innovations.

Along similar lines, AI may convince us that man is not free, that his intelligence is simply a naturally programmed algorithm, but this will not make it so. Human beings will continue to need freedom, even if it is withheld from them. It may be, for example, that the creation of AI algorithms convinces many people that the human brain is also an algorithm, and that like other algorithms, it can be cracked, and that therefore, the human mind is not free. Perhaps, then, free speech is a myth and need not be a protected right. Perhaps rights in general are fictions, perhaps liberal democracy and representative government is a “myth”, an illusion based on the outdated idea that minds are free and not biologically programmed algorithms. Perhaps elections themselves are a silly exercise, a waste of time. To assume that because our machines are not free, we are not free, is to destabilize the human identity on a fundamental level.

This brings me to another point, which Henry Kissinger touched on in a fine essay for the Atlantic  on the topic of AI:

“Through all human history, civilizations have created ways to explain the world around them—in the Middle Ages, religion; in the Enlightenment, reason; in the 19th century, history; in the 20th century, ideology.”

Unfortunately for us in the 21st century, as a society, we have rejected so many of our best ways of explaining ourselves and the world around us. As I mentioned, only science is considered true knowledge, and ever since Bacon, science has been conceived of as a technologically driven enterprise, leading to—especially in the 20th century— unprecedented technological leaps forward.

We have made science and its technology into our ideology, and we have made that ideology into our “way of truth”. Put another way, we understand ourselves, as a society, primarily though exercises of technology. This drives home, on a deeper level, the fact that so many secularist, anti-humanist elites view AI as revealing deep truths about human intelligence and the mystery of consciousness. They view AI as a technological mirror. In creating a machine which can wield language seemingly meaningfully, we created a mirror of our own meaning-making intelligence! Except we didn’t.

AI computes; it does not emote, it does not relate on a first-person basis, it does not unify perceptions, memory, abstractions and other data in an exercise of imagination which generates genuine self-understanding and self-reflection, or genuinely creates value and meaning. Emoting, relating, unifying in the sense above described is a uniquely human activity. The fact that this cannot be clearly seen indicates how desperately we need other ways of explaining ourselves outside the practice of science and technology.

Additionally, and in corroboration with the preceding point, AI has given rise to a whole slew of utopian predictions and progressive ecstasies about untold convenience, efficiency, and inter-connectedness. From talks about it curing cancer, to combatting dis- and misinformation, to enhancing human cells and brains, AI has been greeted with much the same buffoonish excitement that “scientific expertise” was greeted with in the 19th and 20th centuries, and here, I believe, a useful comparison can be drawn.

For obvious reasons, as science became more and more ascendant over the 18th and 19th centuries, the process of “scientizing” all the different fields of knowledge began. A science of society, for example, was established, now known as “sociology”; a science of the soul was established, now known as psychology. Science holds sole epistemological authority, and so as many disciplines as possible try to cast themselves as sciences. In the 19th century especially, the early sociologists and positivists believed that the optimal governing body of society was a group of social scientists, or experts in the science of society (in the case of Comte, he opted for the financial elite instead of sociologists). These experts would use their superior knowledge, intelligence, and information to scientifically deduce policies and scientifically plan society (such as  the Covid-19 response!). These radical notions were taken in by progressivism, eventually coming to be embodied in modern, supermassive, supposedly neutral and expertise-driven bureaucracies.

Second, the epoch of AI allows for an even more utopian version of this same, 19th century fallacy, for, if we should entrust society to the planning of human intelligences with limited information and computing ability, how much more ought we to trust the planning of society to a super-intelligence with almost no information horizon and unbelievable computing power? AI is the impartial, super-intelligent, super-computing expert we’ve all been waiting for!

For example, here is a brief excerpt from WEF’s Agenda 2023:

“Shopping? I can’t really remember what it is. For most of us, it has been turned into choosing things to use. Sometimes I find this fun, and sometimes I just want the algorithm to do it for me. It knows my taste better than I do by now. When AI and robots took over so much of our work, we suddenly had time to eat well, sleep well and spend time with other people.”

Here we have WEF fantasizing about AI bringing about both large-scale restructurings of society and even determining the actions of individual persons: “sometimes I just want the algorithm to do it for me.” One senses a strong flavor of Marxist thought in this.

Perhaps the most immediate way AI is re-planning and re-organizing society is through its massive censorship utilizations. As aforementioned, language learning algorithms were used during Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 election to censor any posts having certain words or phrases associated with dissenters: antivaxx, Hunter Biden laptop, side effect, etc. Millions of posts were deleted by an AI algorithm which had been programmed to censor specific speech categories or words. AI took away the first amendment in real time from thousands of individuals, perhaps millions. Social media censorship certainly impacted the outcome of the 2020 election, and in this way, we can affirm that AI is already helping to determine who is and is not running this country. A computer algorithm helped choose the president!

The future, alas, looks to be less free than the past. Time Magazine poses this scenario:

“But as the integration of GenAI becomes ubiquitous in everyday technology it is not a given that search, word processing, and email will continue to allow humans to be fully in control. The perspectives are frightening. Imagine a world where your word processor prevents you from analyzing, criticizing, lauding, or reporting on a topic deemed “harmful” by an AI programmed to only process ideas that are “respectful and appropriate for all.”

It is undeniable that as the world becomes increasingly digitized, cultural spaces will be increasingly digital, and culture wars will be digitally waged wars. AI is not a digital enemy one wants to be fighting, but it looks as if this may be the fate of all free-speech advocates.

Technology has also impacted and changed individual human behavior in dangerous ways which cannot be understated. For example, the constant presence of image-generating machines has almost certainly stunted imagination in young people, and with the advent of AI image generators with extreme bias, this coddling and indoctrination of the young American mind will be constant.  A terrifying example of this is the recent Google’s Gemini programming of reality and history for our younger generations.

More concretely, as Kissinger observes here, media has encouraged bad intellectual habits:

“Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning. They rarely interrogate history or philosophy; as a rule, they demand information relevant to their immediate practical needs. In the process, search-engine algorithms acquire the capacity to predict the preferences of individual clients, enabling the algorithms to personalize results and make them available to other parties for political or commercial purposes. Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.”

Twitter has given rise to bite-sized history, which cannot be history at all. Social media has exacerbated the replacement of arguments (generally long and complicated) with slogans (much catchier, much simpler). Technology, in fact, has changed what it means to be human, for more and more people are relating to non-human, non-conscious, unfeeling, unthinking pieces of metal as if they are friends, or mentors, or parents. iPhones have replaced conversation in most social situations.  Social media is replacing old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood friends. Works of art, which used to be valuable partly because they were acts of communication between human beings, or because they were self-reflections and genuine instances of self-knowledge, are now being generated by machines and algorithms which do not understand the human condition, or know what it is like to be embodied, or feel grief, or feel humiliation, or feel alone—choose any of the numerous human impetuses to create. Even art is no longer humans teaching the art of being human to other humans, but rather machines teaching the art of being human to humans.

The truth is, to understand technological agency, we must understand human agency, for technology is merely the artifactualizing and typically the automatization of human agency and intention. AI is unique technologically, because it artifactualizes and mimics mental agency, as opposed to physical agency. AI is intelligent to the extent that we have encoded our own intelligence in binary instructions, which the computer can decode, and therefore mimic intelligent behavior. Technology has allowed human agency to work on the world even in the absence of human beings, since we can capture or “artifactualize” our agency in machinery, and then automatize the machinery constantly to apply that agency.

Sadly, at this point, many of the people coding the computers have stopped acting intelligently, so our technology now artifactualizes and force-multiplies our stupidity and biases–again, precisely as the launch of  Google Gemini demonstrated. We are left with the fearsome and dangerous summarizing thought that “there is machinery to this madness!”


Conlan Salgado, is a college junior. He is an astute political observer and highly informed conservative. America needs more young patriots and gifted writers to awaken citizens to the existential danger our nation faces in the decades-long political war with a radical leftist party and culture increasingly out-of-control. We recommend all of his superb writings. Access Conlan Salgado’s essays in The Prickly Pear here.


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