For Work / Against Work
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"Hannah Arendt’s machines: Re-Evaluating marketplace theory in the AI era"

by Schroeder, Jared (2020)


Artificially intelligent communicators are increasingly influencing human discourse. Algorithms and bots are determining the range and frequency of ideas individuals encounter, ultimately raising questions about whether the marketplace of ideas theory of the First Amendment, as it has traditionally been envisioned by the Supreme Court, can continue to endure as justices’ dominant tool for rationalizing extensive safeguards for free expression. In particular, the emergence of AI actors, which drown out human ideas and spread false and misleading information, appear to only worsen the long-standing criticisms of the theory’s assumptions. This article draws from Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy to construct a revised approach to marketplace theory as it enters its second century of use by the Supreme Court. Arendt’s ideas, especially as they pertain to the power of human-made machines to condition human behavior, as well as her concerns regarding community, truth, and the dichotomy between animal laborans and homo faber, are uniquely suited, as well as relatively under considered, when it comes to revising the marketplace approach.

Key Passage

[Arendt's] concerns regarding the role tools have played in damaging the public realm are instructive in considering the growing influence of AI on public discourse in the twenty-first century. Arendt communicated two overlapping concerns regarding the tools homo faber creates. First, that they will ultimately come to condition human life in ways that are destructive to society. She explained, for example, “the machines demand that the laborer serve them, that he adjust the natural rhythm of his body to their mechanical movement.”  Second, they are a destructive force because, in easing the labor of animal laborans, they create a more consumption-based society. Arendt contended the “herd-like” animal laborans mindset was responsible for mass culture and destruction of the idealized public realm. In easing the labor burden, Arendt explained, tools and machines diminish what it means to be alive. She wrote, “The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms of which can be removed without changing life itself; they are rather the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt.”  Arendt continued, “Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.” All of these concerns, however, relate to her larger worry that the world has come to misunderstand the purpose of machines. They were not created to ease the burdens of the human condition, she emphasized, though they are often understood in this way. They were, instead, created by homo faber to “erect a world.” Such a difference between how machines are understood and why they were created is crucial to contemporary questions regarding AI actors within democratic discourse. (p.40)


Arendt, Artificial Intelligence, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber, Machination, Technology


On Arendt, Automation

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