How AI Has Already Taken Over Democracy

When corporations have the right to speech, humans are screwed

Corporations have been legal persons since the VoC in the 1600s. They're also assholes

Corporations are AI. The Latin in corpore just means "in a body" and that's precisely what they are. In the eyes of the law and the state, corporations are artificial beings. Corporations have legal personhood, a fact well-established over centuries. Corporations also have political rights, including speech. The only thing that isn't established is calling them what they are. AI.

When we think of AI we think of humanoid robots and code, but none of this is relevant. An AI can be embodied in a corporation as much as a box. It can use human labor as much as gears. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, AI is as AI does. While the philosophical debate may rage on, the legal debate has been settled for centuries. Corporations are not just artificial people, they're as good as citizens.

Citizens United

As the US Supreme Court said in 1844:

It is that a corporation created by and doing business in a particular state is to be deemed to all intents and purposes as a person, although an artificial person, an inhabitant of the same state, for the purposes of its incorporation, capable of being treated as a citizen of that state as much as a natural person.

This legal (and thus political) fact has been established again and again, most recently in the 2010 case Citizens United. In that, the modern Supreme Court ruled that "we are convinced that, in the end, this corporation has a constitutional right to speak." The majority said "political speech is “indispensable to decisionmaking in a democracy, and this is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation rather than an individual.”"

As you can see the two categories of speaker (human and corporation) are considered equivalent. In fact, the Supreme Court argued that corporate AI is in many ways superior to human beings. Justice Scalia said, "despite the corporation-hating quotations the dissent has dredged up... To exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy."

Hence we go from corporations being treated like citizens to them being treated better. Hence we go from corporations granted very limited charters by the state to them telling governments what to do. And the real class warfare is us versus AI. As the majority opinion says:

Here they're talking about the free speech rights of corporations, and again saying that these super-citizens are often better than us, that they should be correcting our representatives. We're supposed to be debugging AI, but they're debugging us. The errors they point out, of course, are things like them having to pay taxes, or living wages, or not destroy the livable Earth. That is to say, it's not just that corporations are AI, they're malevolent AI, and they've already taken power. There is no battle, no SkyNet, no struggle at all. Through our own democracies, the deed is already done.

Democracy Cannot Stand

Since the ancient Greeks, democracy has always been about who you define as citizens. The Greeks didn't define women and slaves as citizens and quite happily called themselves a democracy that way. Today for most purposes we define corporations as citizens, but given that they're so much more powerful than us, we're effectively just wage slaves underneath. As the dissent to Citizens United states:

We noted that corporations have “special advan­tages—such as limited liability, perpetual life, and favor­able treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets,”—that allow them to spend prodigious general treasury sums on campaign messages that have “little or no correlation” with the beliefs held by actual persons.

We are sharing a democracy with immortals that have limited liability and unlimited wealth and power. The Greeks never thought of this, but you cannot share a democracy with gods. The power differential is so great that it makes elections just a tepid religious festival and not a real exercise of power. When money is speech, the marketplace devours the town square. And this is precisely what has happened.

Both the opinion and dissent to Citizens United acknowledge that democracy is a marketplace in America. The ecosystem of machines, not human beings. The language of capitalism has pervaded even legal arguments here.

The majority opinion says "All speakers, including individuals and the media, use money amassed from the economic marketplace to fund their speech. The First Amendment protects the resulting speech." The dissent says that this is a problem, but concurs that speech is fundamentally a market. They say the case "may translate into special advantages in the market for legislation."

Observers of the US have, of course, been saying this for a long time. And it's not a metaphorical criticism, to say that democracy is for sale in America, it's a statement of reality. It's the law of the land. One observer was the Chinese scholar Wang Huning (now a powerful Politburo member). He described this commodification of American democracy in 1991. He said:

Wang described American politics as a 'big commodity' market and, as you can see, this is quite openly codified in American law. Wang went to visit Capitol Hill and he was struck at how comfortable things were made for the human servants of corporate AI. He said:

Again, this isn't just a criticism from a Chinese observer. All of the Supreme Court Justices in Citizens United talk about a "market for legislation" as if this is just a natural thing. But if politics is a market how the fuck are individual human beings supposed to compete against giant corporations? How loud can we yell when money talks?

As the dissent said:

And this is true. It's been true and it's come true even worse since Citizens United. There's a revolving door between the IRS and accounting firms as corporations just make their own laws. Lobbyists regularly write laws and strike down laws they don't like. People like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are bribed with millions of dollars as 'speaking fees'. Representatives and bureaucrats openly insider trade as one of the perks of the job. It's only not called corruption because the corporations have legalized corruption.

Even elections themselves, the only advantage humans have over AI, are really just grand public corruption festivals. Politicians solicit bribes from corporations and then proudly advertise how much they've been bribed on corporate media. It's a reality TV show in lieu of real democracy. It's the illusion of choice instead of real people power. And the dissent of Citizens United talked about that as well.

So here we are, at the margins of our own democracies. When real people are sharing a democracy with gods, how are we any better than Greek slaves? Wage slaves is all. We get to choose between two masters on a rotating basis, that's it. Most human beings cannot realistically afford anything in the political marketplace, and we know it. As the Citizens United dissent says:

Hence while we look at Greek democracy as bullshit because it excluded so many people, ours is bullshit because it includes and privileges corporations. In the US, democracy is so corrupted that people appeal to corporations about abortion laws, coups, and everything else because they know that's where the power really is. We're all just mendicants to greater gods.

Understanding AI

I frame none of this metaphorically. The burden of proof is actually not on me to prove that corporations are AI. This is the law of the land. You can say that corporations do not have consciousness, or that they cannot have consciousness, but these are all irrelevant questions. You can say the same things about human beings. Intelligent is as intelligent does and a 'being' only exists as much as it is socially received. Corporations are running circles around us, and the government receives them with greater courtesy.

It's really just the arrogance of the damned to pretend like we're better than incorporated beings. Why, because we have bodies? Prison corporations put our fragile bodies in cages while they are uncageable. Because we can have idle conversations with each other? Corporations monitor those conversations and use them to sell us shit, or drone us if we're unlucky.

Saying corporations are not AI might make you feel better, but it's not true. Look at our society. Read literally any case law. Legal personhood of artificial beings is a well-established fact. Their political power and agency has been unquestioned for centuries and they have already taken over the world. Hence the age of sentient, malevolent AI isn't some future dystopia. It's already here.

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