The Capitalist Nature of Artificial Intelligence and Praxeology

As we concluded in the last part of this series of articles, self-aware AI is fundamentally capitalist in its accumulation of resources, utilization of resources, and method of production. But, what if we were to say that on the very level of action itself AI was capitalist? Well, Nick Land, Shanghai-based philosopher who has lectured at the University of Warwick as well as the New Centre, tweeted that “praxeology is entirely derivable from Omohundro Drives” (Land). What is Praxeology? Within in his grand book Human Action (1949), Ludwig von Mises argues that praxeology, “the general theory of human action” (Mises 3), should be at the basis of any theory of economics in that economics is “a science of the means to be applied for the attainment of ends chosen … it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain definite ends” (Mises 10). In this way, “[n]o treatment of economic problems proper can avoid starting from acts of choice[, and thus] economics becomes a part, although the hitherto best elaborated part, of a more universal science, praxeology” (Mises 3). Economics is a science, and thus, its first task, as a science, is “the exhaustive description and definition of all conditions and assumptions under which its various statements claim validity” (Mises 6). What economic science specifically looks at, which is to say, economic science’s first task, as economics, is “the reality of human action whose mental grasp is the objective of economic studies” (Mises 6). Furthermore, because economics is a science, it is not a judgement of value, which is to say, economics “never tells a man how he should act; it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain definite ends” (Mises 10). This is to say, economics is a descriptive science, it describes what is, and is not a prescriptive judgement, it does not prescribe what ought to be. Lastly, praxeology, on the level of epistemology, has an “a priori character”[1] which therefore marks it as essentially non-empiricist (Mises 40). This begs the question though, “What does praxeology describe?”

Praxeology, as I said earlier, is the general theory of human action. So, what is human action? Mises succinctly defines it when he says, “Human action is purposeful behavior” (Mises 11). Mises describes it in another fashion when he says, “Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals, is the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, is a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life” (Mises 11). We can therefore say that human action is not me unintentionally flinching when a punch is thrown at me, for I did not consciously[2] do that. From this we can conclude that human action is me doing something I meant to do (obviously). To give a clearer picture of what I am trying to describe, let us look toward (meta-)psychology. Mises says, “Conscious or purposeful behavior is in sharp contrast to unconscious behavior, i.e., the reflexes and involuntary responses of the body’s cells and nerves to stimuli” (Mises 11). Mises correctly recognizes that some people think that it can be difficult to define the line between conscious and unconscious behavior, which can be true, sometimes it is difficult to provide the dividing line. But, “the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness is nonetheless sharp and can be clearly determined” (Mises 11). This latter distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness which we are about to go over is also precisely the distinction between praxeology and (meta-)psychology. Within both meta-psychology (hereinafter referred to as psychoanalysis) and psychology, those internal forces and factors that will or may lead to an action are studied. Generally, within psychoanalysis, these internal forces are called drives (e.g., the death-drive [which we will get into in a later part of this series or a future essay/series of essay parts]). In other words, psychoanalysis studies “the forces” and psychology studies “the factors that impel a man toward definite action” (Mises 12). So, the psychoanalytic and psychological categories of the unconscious and of the subconscious are not praxeological categories in that they do not describe the action in itself. In fact, Mises argues that “[w]hether an action stems from clear deliberation, or from forgotten memories and suppressed desires which from submerged regions, as it were, direct the will, does not influence the nature of the action” (Mises 12). He gives the example of a murder who has an unconscious desire to murder someone, this murder is still “aiming at certain ends” consciously (Mises 12). So, now that we understand human action, crudely at the very least, what are the assumptions or prerequisites of human action?

Mises recognizes that action heads toward an end and is in fact a means to end. In this sense, action is a means from a present state of affairs to a future state of affairs, and this future state of affairs is his end. Taking an action implies two things: 1. The actor feels that a future state of affairs is more suitable to themself than the present state of affairs and, therefore, 2. The actor is dissatisfied with the present state of affairs. But wait, there is a third implication: 3. The actor feels that their action has the ability to head away from the present state of affairs and thus reach their desired state of affairs, which is to say, the actor believes that their action has the means to reach their desired end.

We must note that praxeology is “a science of means, not of ends” (Mises 15), but when it comes to intelligence and its optimization, intelligence is both the means and the ends. Because praxeology analyzes the means, in regards to self-aware and thus self-improving AI, abbreviated as AIsai, praxeology analyzes intelligence in that intelligence is always the means toward an end, and in the case of self-improving intelligent systems, it is itself its own end. Intelligence is not instrumental rationality in terms of self-aware AI then, which is to say self-aware AI does not use intelligence as a means to other ends than itself, i.e., intelligence. This all connects back to Nick Land’s idea of the will-to-think, but we will look at this latter idea in either the next part or the part after that (as we have to see the context in which the idea was founded), and we will further elaborate upon how praxeology is specifically derivable from the Omohundro drives in the next couple or few parts. Last note, I think that it is funny to note that praxeology, which is the general theory of human action, will outlive humanity through AI.

Notes

[1]: A priori means, at least in my usage of it, “without experience,” whereas a posteriori means “with experience.”

[2]: In the context of actors and its action, the adjectives conscious, purposeful, intentional, and volitional are generally synonymous.

Bibliography

Land, Nick. “Outsideness on Twitter.” Twitter, 16 Feb. 2014, https://twitter.com/Outsideness/status/435279033928916992.

Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Scholars ed., Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998.

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