In our discussions on the “plutocratic insurgency” here, we have focused on the malfeasance and corrupt practices of the moneyed elites, their political lackeys, and a few of the major corporations. Some people, reading these pages, may be tempted to think, “Well, so what? It doesn’t affect me personally! What do I care!” But the insurgency does, in fact, affect all of us on an individual basis. When your society is being attacked, you come into the cross-hairs. It makes no difference whether the attack is prolonged or sudden; it is an attack nonetheless.
You will recall that we have taken special care to highlight the term “insurgency” in this discussion. By insurgency we mean just that: the moneyed elites are waging economic warfare against the host societies in which they operate, to an extent that threatens the very foundations of civilized life. This is not your grand-daddy’s war: there is no “front line,” no identifiable leaders, and no cease-fire negotiations. But it is a war nonetheless. It is a war that is taking place in the shadows, out of sight, and it is going on with the connivance and encouragement of the highest levels of national “leadership.” It is a conspiratorial war, one that is being waged without quarter against all of us. Its boundaries are debt slavery, the plundering of national resources for the benefit of the few, the creeping theft of public spaces, and the slowly narrowing boundaries of personal freedoms.
In the latest installment of their vitally-important series of articles in the Small Wars Journal, Dr. Robert Bunker and Pamela Bunker explain a disturbing new dimension of the insurgency: the use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to extract the maximum resources possible from unsuspecting citizens. The full story can be found here.
Have you noticed how nearly every company now wants personal information about you? Have you noticed how they love to badger you with surveys, questionnaires, and similar intrusive requests? This is all being done for a reason. And the reason is for their benefit, not yours. The Bunkers explain it in greater detail here:
Artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms built into business applications software is increasingly changing how multinational corporations interface with their customer base. Such ‘learning software’—when combined with massive data sets tracking hundreds of individual (i.e. client specific) and group purchasing, life style, and socio-economic variables—allows for corporate profit optimization to take place when goods and services are offered to the consumer by means of ‘dynamic’ and ‘algorithmic’ pricing strategies. While such AI derived profit optimization may represent an additional revenue stream to big business shareholders, it also means that the consumer shopping experience is increasingly becoming like that of extended casino gambling—with the house taking small wins hand after hand—rather than a free and fair market exchange between buyers and sellers.
Need more specific information? According to a June 7, 2017 article in the publication The Guardian, “The travel site Orbitz made headlines when it was revealed to have calculated that Apple Mac users were prepared to pay 20-30% more for hotel rooms than users of other brands of computer[s], and to have adjusted its pricing accordingly.”
Here is the entire breakdown, which I can do no better than to quote in full from the Bunkers’ article. It is worth reading very carefully:
Who: Thousands of major corporations across business sectors including Amazon, Google, Orbitz Uber, Walmart, Shell, Staples, and Home Depot.
What: The use of artificial intelligence (AI) linked to ‘big data’ pools of information on individual customer spending behaviors, lifestyle choices, and socio-economic profiles cross-linked to seller and competitor real time product and service pricing as well as to sales and transactions.
When: Increasingly over the last decade with heightened media interest within the last year.
Where: Not only within the United States and Europe but increasingly transnationally across liberal democracies as well as throughout the online global web.
Why: For multinational corporate profit optimization for e-business and brick-and-mortar stores products and services.
Analysis: Thousands of large businesses and multinational corporations are now getting a ‘helping hand’ from the use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms linked to big data pools that draw upon customer tracking software and real time market pricing and sales updates. These algorithms allow for corporations to engage in the additional extraction of anywhere from a few pennies a gallon for gasoline through to hundreds of dollars for large consumer goods or airline flights during each customer transaction, as a component of dynamic and algorithmic pricing strategies that result in hundreds of billions of additional dollars added to their yearly revenue streams.
Artificial intelligence employed as a form of ‘subtle e-market strong arming’ that squeezes additional profits out of unsuspecting consumers represents a far cry from the spirit of free market capitalism discussed in Adam Smith’s 1776 work The Wealth of Nations. A 21st century revision of the work would now be more in line with the concept of the wealth of corporations benefiting their plutocratic elite shareholders. In the predatory—extra-sovereign—capitalist economy that is emerging, individual consumers have become ‘marks’ to be shaken down by transnational corporations for the last pennies in their pockets as part of their initiatives towards profit optimization.
The corporate shakedown process begins with creating individual consumer profiles on not only their past spending habits but also on their lifestyle specifics and socio-economic level as well as arcane data such as the type of computer they use, preferred routes to work, vacation spots, favorite ice cream, and the online movies that they watch. The detailed consumer picture that can now be created far exceeds anything a Stasi analyst would have ever hoped for:
Facebook has about 100 data points on each of its 2 billion users, generally including the value of your home, your regular outgoings and disposable income—the kind of information that bazaar owners the world over might have once tried to intuit. Some brokerage firms offering data to retailers can provide more than 1,500 such points on an individual.
Once a consumer’s ‘intelligence file’ has been assembled, it resides in the world of online big data which is accessed by corporate AI systems that implement optimization strategies during each and every consumer interaction that takes place. The AI as a learning system—much like the old IBM Deep Blue chess-playing computer but now many magnitudes more powerful and advanced—utilizing predictive analytics determines the appropriate product ‘transaction approach,’ drawing upon those individual intelligence files as well as the up-to-the-second demand and supply of the specific goods in question for market contextualization purposes.
Hence, the revenue streams generated by commodities—such as all the seats for an airline flight—are now being approached by AI systems as ‘games’ that can be maximized against a few hundred consumers for every iteration of play over and over again. Rather than open information games such as chess, with known rules and complete game-board awareness provided to both players, corporate and consumer interactions are now looking a lot more like a never ending poker game with the house constantly changing the rules and possessing complete awareness of all the cards held by those playing at their tables. What makes this ongoing game so insidious is that the consumer a) is not a willing participant like a gambler who knowingly places their bets, b) can’t walk away from the table like they would in a casino after they have lost their money, and c) doesn’t even know that they are in a game in the first place, much less that they have AI systems implementing strategies against them during each and every online transaction that they are involved in to extract as much money as possible from their wallets.
With the outcome of such seller and buyer transactions preordained—humans cannot compete with AI invested with “almost superhuman insight into market dynamics”—another indicator of the eclipse of state-moderated capitalism has taken place. States, especially liberal democratic ones, have a social contract with the governed to protect them from predatory market forces such as multinational (and increasingly stateless) corporations. What is possibly most astounding about this situation is that, while much recent and vocal consternation exists about artificial intelligence someday being deployed on the battlefield, similar capabilities have already been unleashed in the online—and increasingly brick-and-mortar—global marketplaces with little to no protest by the representatives of states or non-governmental organizations.
As we have said before, awareness is the first step in self-protection. All of us need to be aware of what is going on right under our noses, and not be distracted by the demagoguery and charlatanry of our “political leaders.” These people care little or nothing about the people they were appointed to serve, so the burden is on us not to participate in immoral or corrupt practices of these business entities. Understand what is going on, and do not allow yourself to be distracted by fake enemies or emotional nonsense. The great challenge of this century will be the development of an appropriate counter-insurgency strategy.
Ethics and morals have never been so needed as today. Learn the foundational principles of a moral life in the best English translation of On Duties: