baseline rationality and ChatGPT
a nationalist shivering in AI's intellectual draft
Tian Feilong 天飞龙
Born 1983, Tian Feilong is a child of the Xi era. He swam across our screen some years ago, writing on the ‘project system’ or xiangmu zhi 项目制, a powerful research paradigm emerging from some fine scholars in the Institute of Sociology at Peking University (where I taught as an adjunct professor 2012-17).
Tian’s next appearance, as a champion of the National Security Law and other aberrations in Hong Kong, sapped our interest. Something had induced him, we surmised, to sing in tune, and not a very attractive tune at that.
Remembering his early promise though, we kept an eye on his writings.
The following is recent, reacting to the huge brouhaha about ChatGPT, the natural language AI. The nationalism of much of his ‘in tune’ output is absent; we find him urging surveillance of ‘super AI’ a the level of the United Nations, and lamenting ‘collusion of capital and the state’ (by which he no doubt means the US, not the PRC).Of greatest interest for Beijing Baselines is Tian’s implicit doctrine of ‘baseline rationality’, developed with no discernible Marxism, Maoism or Xi-ism.
Thanks for reading Beijing Baselines! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Challenges of ChatGPT, machine civilisation and super artificial intelligence
Open AI, an American AI research lab, in late 2022 launched a new natural language processing tool, ChatGPT, arousing fierce reactions in business, technology, society, ethics, and law. A milestone in AI development, it is a major test and challenge for human existence and ethics. AI is essentially a kind of machine civilisation, leveraging human rationality. Yet when it at a certain point reaches full build-up and build-out, this directed and anthropomorphic machine civilisation may replace the labour and existence of humanity, disrupting and harming human society’s basic structure, communication methods, and ethical/legal systems.
Not only an inevitable trend of capital seeking profit, AI’s tech development and commercial application is a new arena for inter-state power rivalry. The PRC and the US are both major powers in AI tech and its commercial applications. Their confrontation and rivalry in the high-tech field will inevitably affect this field with the nature of a new Cold War. The US has formulated relevant laws and policies to seize the commanding heights via vigorously developing AI. The emergence of ChatGPT is the result of the combined effect of capital and international rivalry. In the face of AI development and the extensive challenges it brings, Beijing should do a good job of technical reserves, ethical guidance and legal regulation to ensure its own technological advantages and moral legitimacy in this field.
Two-sided machine civilisation
The difference between man and ape, i.e. natural animals, lies in making and using tools, i.e., rational labour. The fundamental purpose of human rationality applied to labour is human survival and happiness, and the birth of tool civilisation and indeed machine civilisation is its practical result. In ancient society, due to the limitations of science and technology and human practical ability, humans could only manufacture and use simple stone/iron tools; for human civilisation, reaching the level of machine civilisation was still difficult. With the advent of capitalist society, human S&T have made breakthroughs, inventions and creations have emerged one after another, factories generally use advanced production machines, capital and the state have maintained a strong interest in and large-scale investment in machine research and development and innovative applications. The concern of capital is profit, and machines can achieve greater efficiency and more profit. The concern of the state is strength, and machines can bring about stronger national strength and competitiveness.
In the era of the industrial revolution, the relationship between man and machine has two sides and contradictory tensions: on the one hand, the advancement of machines brings better productivity, which can liberate and enhance human labour; on the other hand, the widespread use of machines reduces It affects the status and bargaining power of workers, and causes workers to hate machines. There are inherent dualities in machine civilisation: it is both supplementary to human labour and a substitute for human labour. When the function of the machine is relatively simple and mainly reflects auxiliary functions, human beings love and accept the machine. When machine functions are complicated and anthropomorphised to partially replace human labour, the machine itself becomes a kind of ’new labourer’, a competitor of human labour; finding the machines distasteful, humans then reject them.
ChatGPT is of course the new darling of capital and an advantage lever of national competition, but for ordinary workers and their social relations, it causes serious misgivings and panic, holding existential fear of being replaced, inspiring resentment and rejection.
According to humanist logic, man is the ’measure of all things’ and legislator over nature. Man has rights of invention and sovereignty over labour tools, including machines. There is a fictive ’master-slave relationship’ between man and machine, whereby machines are servitors, ’silent slaves’ to human interests. Ethical dominance of human beings is established in this sense; human beings must ensure that their dominance will not be subverted or voided in ethical or legal terms. Given the duality of machine civilisation, people need to give full play to its auxiliary functions and restrain its subversion and countermeasure risks. Making good use of AI is a blessing for mankind that, if not used well, will become a force subversive of human existence.
AI’s threats to humanity
Behind all machine civilisation is emulation of human rationality, different degrees of which will create AI of different strengths and perfections. According to the degree of imitation, AI can be categorised as ‘weak’, ‘strong’ or ‘super’. In this pedigree, the machines’ emulation of human rationality gradually escalates and surpasses it, the threat to human existence gradually rising:
weak AI is just a simple, fragmented imitation and application of human rationality by machines; its threat to human society is completely controllable.
strong AI involves multi-functional integration of human rationality, and is the mainstream of AI development’s current stage;
ChatGPT roughly belongs to this stage, already integrating human rationality and a degree of independent learning and practical ability, but insufficient to completely replace humans.
super AI belongs to the perfected, extreme form of AI development. It was first proposed by philosopher and AI ethics expert Nick Bostrom, who defined it as ‘almost surpassing the intelligence of the human brain in every field’.
This definition subsumes some key points:
super AI is a general transcendence of human rationality, and it surpasses the superiority of human rationality. The overall limit is a kind of ’superhuman’ intelligence;
it ’almost’ suggests that superhuman intelligence may not have achieved superhuman advantages in some specific fields exclusive to humans;
with advantages in all aspects from labour to social management, the status and dominance of human legislators may be subverted and shaken
Judging from current technical forms of AI, the era of weak AI has passed, that of strong AI is unfolding, and that of super AI constitutes the future picture. ChatGPT itself is a technical system of strong AI thay has serious technical advantages and application prospects in intelligent dialogue, text creation and social management. Via directed accumulation, iteration and optimisation in this direction, it can move step by step towards super AI. What people fear is its future trend towards the development of super AI. Due to the collusion of capital and the state, this will inevitably speed up, and the threat of AI to humans will inevitably become more realistic and challenging.
Restricting ourselves to the application of ChatGPT, its threats and negativity are predictable and confirmable:
it replaces a wide range of jobs: intelligent customer service, coding, image production, text scripting, manuscript drafting, news writing, legal consulting, basic teaching, etc.;
it induces academic plagiarism, such as using this tool for paper writing and plagiarism;
the teaching field’s dependence on machines and degradation of its practical ability will cause serious damage and weakening to students' learning ability, practical ability and moral practical ability
cultural security and moral security at the social level, including factors such as algorithmic dictatorship, radical thought penetration, and the proliferation of politically correct culture.
These threats are real and will inevitably become more prominent with the wide application of this procedure.
AI development must uphold the status of human legislators and human dominance, and insist on the premise and foundation of human existence and human value. This baseline has the normative status of fundamental law and should bind all investors, tech developers and social managers.
Are Intelligent Robots a ’New Man’?
In the theocratic age, human reason was, in the name of faith, subjected to the reason of God. In a democratic age, human reason legislates for self and nature, creating modern civilisation in the process. As product of and assistant in the liberation of human rationality, however, the development of machine civilisation is gradually embarking on a road of human alienation: constructing a new form of rationality that emulates and even surpasses human rationality beyond human existence.
AI’s development and evolution from weak to strong, thence to super strong, is a remarkable trajectory of human rational self-liberation and self-alienation. Can humans, as rational lawmakers, control AI forever? Will the algorithm of intelligent robots be ’smart enough’ to break through human rational defences? How to break the technical tyranny over the ’majority’ of the ’minority’ behind the algorithm? Do algorithmic discrimination and platform hegemony constitute new sources and foundations of human inequality? Will intelligent robots have a disruptive impact on human labour, existence, and social relationships? Will intelligent robots eventually become the rulers of mankind and completely subvert the ’master-slave relationship’ between humans and machines? Can robots dominate the world as a kind of ’new man’? These ultimate questions have strong ontological significance and philosophical challenges.
For the ethical and legal challenges of super AI, human society must have a sufficient sense of crisis and a dialectical philosophy of technology, guide AI to always serve human beings with controllable developmentalism, and comprehensively regulate the threat:
at the level of international law, the UN and relevant international organisations should lead the formulation of ethical guidelines or conventions for the global development of AI to provide normative constraInts and guidance;
at the level of national law, countries should formulate their own ethical guidelines and policy frameworks for the development of AI and legal mechanisms, and pay attention to international coordination;
At the level of industry self-regulation, companies with industry influence should strengthen the formulation of ethical standards and the construction of compliance systems, and promote the formation of international industrial standards for AI;
the level of family and individual self-regulation , every family and everyone should understand the pros and cons of AI, pay attention to balance and self-discipline in the application of work and life, and maintain the baseline of human beings and the basic ability of social practice.
A rational product of human beings, AI must serve human interests and be legislated and led by humans in order to ensure that it conforms to human ethics and promotes better survival and life for human beings. In the face of the extensive and profound challenges brought by ChatGPT, human society, countries, groups and everyone e\have the responsibility to think about how to adapt, regulate, self-discipline and persevere. Problems created by people can in the end only be solved by them. Intelligent robots are not a kind of ’new man’: they remain projections and reflections of human rationality, and must develop within its moral and institutional limits. Provided it is oriented to people, rather than to profit and power, AI’s development can embark on a bright and correct path.
(Originally published in Hong Kong AM730, February 13, 2023)