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AI as an instrument of abolition 

From a shorter work week to deeper personal growth, the implications of artificial intelligence point toward profits that are beyond simply economic, writes Chris Burton.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

AI should be an instrument of liberation and abolition, a tool that alleviates suffering and allows us to prioritize sabbath. In my estimation, the central question in the AI conversation needs to be, “How does this get folks free?” Pew Research Center shows that 52% of Americans are more concerned than excited about AI. Undoubtedly, some of the concern is connected to the economic ramifications of its implementation.

We have already seen the entertainment industry endure difficult negotiations because of the potential use of AI to own a person’s image and likeness in perpetuity. But it is vital that AI is used not as an engine to perpetuate greed, but as an engine to promote human thriving. This technology essentially – in the realm of ideals – should make our lives easier. Processes across disciplines can be automated, which, in turn, should mean that human beings do not have to work as hard. We should be able to use AI to give human beings an opportunity to not only rest, but to have space to pursue activities and hobbies that are fulfilling.

Our collective imaginations have been incarcerated by the rat race of capitalism. AI could provide us time to be fully present with one another, with parents using the free time to be with their children and all people co-laboring with God as artists, creating beauty in a variety of media.

AI should also provide us with an opportunity to think about the implications of a shorter workweek. In 2021, the World Health Organization released study results that show working 55 or more hours a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke, compared to working a 35- to 40-hour week. We cannot afford to continue to treat rest as if it is optional. Of course, with rising costs and stagnated – in some cases, stifled – wages, cutting back on work is a nonstarter. This is further complicated by the greed of corporations beholden to shareholders. What would it look like for our culture to shift from making a killing to making a living? Where artificial intelligence could be used to mutually maintain profits and take care of the workforce? AI does not have to put people out of work if we have the collective will to take care of one another.

Undoubtedly, with every technological advancement, there are jobs that become obsolete. Further complicated by educational inequity, there is simply no getting around the fact that there are people whose training and education have not prepared them for this shift. Yet I see this as an opportunity to capitalize on the work already begun on a small scale in Stockton, California, by former Mayor Michael Tubbs, on implementing a universal basic income. It is an opportunity to proliferate this initiative, noted by
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his text “Where Do We Go From Here?” as a solution to poverty. Nationwide implementation could usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity and public health.

AI, when aimed at ethical implementation, can be a generational instrument of abolition, opening doors previously thought to be closed. We have to be good stewards of this great power; using the wisdom to know that just because we can do something does not mean that we should. Furthermore, we must disabuse ourselves from an understanding of profitability that is limited to the realm of economic gain. We will suffer from our lack of imagination if we cannot expand our understandings of profit to include physical, mental, environmental, cultural and spiritual well-being. There is a deep soul sickness longing to be cured in humanity, and while AI is far from a panacea, it could afford us the time to begin tending to our wound.