Beware of Autopilot’s Disease – Credo Mutwa and the ancient wonder of the self-driving Hut (Blindspot columns in Leadership Magazine)

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Blindspot columns in Leadership Magazine explores the problems of labour and Autopilot's Disease in the age of AI, posthumanism, and robotisation

The Blindspot columns from May, and July 2023 explore critical themes related to the erasure of the ‘human’ elements from the world of work and the horizons of the future. 

MayDay MayDay for (human) Labour Relations in the age of AI post-humanism and the Dictatorship of the Digitosphere? – May 2023, Leadership Magazine

The editor asked that this delivery of the Blindspot column cover something related to labour relations. In response it can be indicated that this request set several trains of thought in motion, simultaneously, and hence, the product constructed around fragments below. 

I – Memories of embodied human labour 

If it was possible to sweep in with a high altitude eagle-eye perspective on broad sweeps of recent human history (say, looking at the past five hundred years) it would in generalised terms be possible to argue that the evolution of state, economic, and human-societal systems (whether it is the British Empire, or the pre-colonial Zulu Kingdom) have been shaped by labour. Labour of course understood as both physical- and the mental efforts necessary to push forward the boundaries of, for example, traditional healing practice, natural and social sciences, or the building of railway tracks and associated train systems. 

From that perspective, evidently, one cannot posit the concept, labour relations, without remembering and paying homage to millions upon millions of historical human victims of vastly violent, and pestilence-ridden histories. Think how supposedly sophisticated European Kings and Queens treated their slaves and feudal serfs, or how Industrialists, Mining magnates, and Mega-Corporations exploit, and work their ‘worker minions,’ into early graves. Human history is also a story of labour in Salt Mines and Metal Foundries that suck humanity out of humans living on nothing but slave wages, as supposed ‘consenting citizens’ of some Capitalist and/or Socialist/Communistically concocted dystopia. So-called Capitalism and Communism/Socialism, are opposite ends of the same philosophical coin, with the coin being – post-enlightenment Western Modernity. 

However, in the twenty-twenties of the twenty-first century, human labour, both as action, and as concept, stands challenged on multiple fronts. Some of the hopefully less obvious blindspots, and battlefronts, faced by labour, therefore, need exploration. 

II – Science fiction & cyberpunk futures 

To set the scene. What was considered science-fiction up until relatively recent times, has in manifold shapes, forms, and sizes, morphed themselves out of the realm of the imaginary, into what we perceive as a tangible 3D embodied reality. For example, what was seen as something of the distant future, by viewers of 1970/80s Star Trek shows, being – touchscreens, are by now an all-pervading presence in the global economy- and society. 

A genre of literature that came to be known as Cyberpunk (emerging in the 1970s, with authors such as William Gibson) imagine and write about a techno-society in the near future that, when one reads those novels today, could make the reader think William Gibson & co were writing the ‘emerging now’ reality of the world in the 2020s. 

The 1970s cyberpunk phantasmagoria of a ‘just over the horizon world,’ showed how bio-technological interventions, genetic manipulation and biological wars can be executed at sub-molecular and genetic levels. They posited augmented humans, and fully immersive virtual realities: non-physical digitospheric spaces of ‘entertainment’ where most embodied humans tend to, want to, and most likely will keep themselves and their minds/psyches plugged into, for as long as the body and bladder can take it. Think Meta & the metaverse. Cyberpunk had the idea of immersive VR worlds long before Mark Schmuckerburg popped a head into the digital domains.

Cyberpunk also talks about a world of advanced robotics, and labyrinthine mega-corporations that bio-hack, gene-edit, and vaccinate to consequently transform living flesh through multiple advanced bio-medical interventions. In the cyberpunk universe one encounters AI-powered actors, musicians and such mega-personas that garner millions of followers, while being pure non-human, post-human manifestations: they are AI, they are synthetic life. 

Cyberpunk posits a world where unthinkable boundaries that used to separate ‘human from machine,’ are not only obliterated, but consciousness is proposed as something that can be uploaded into and/or onto a silicon based computer platform: the Matrix’s uploading of consciousness into the ‘machine’ comes to mind. Now, for a moment, think of our current world where the so-called fourth industrial revolution is autogenerating, in real-time, the Internet of Things, concepts like the ‘Internet of bodies,’ and Neuralink interfaces that can be implanted in a head, close to you, to plug the ‘you’ into digitospheric domains of nascent cybernetic consciousness? Thus the boundary between human, and machine, is not merely crossed, but provides a starting block for further   human-machine mash-ups to occur. 

The now of the turbulent twenties of the twenty-first century manifests a world where ChatGPT and other such Artificial Intelligences, are already living among humans, not as ‘exterior/foreign’ creations, but as manifestation of the human (the organic embodied being) imaginary, and its techno-scientific prowess to dream-up, and then proceed to create such magical human-coded manifestations in the Digitosphere. 

III – Back to labour, and workers day

Seeing that we’re in the month that celebrates ‘labour/workers day,’ in a world ostensibly rushing towards ever higher levels of automation, robotisation, and AI-driven systems, it is relevant to ask what a concept like ‘labour relations,’ means. By celebrating ‘Workers Day,’ an implicit assumption is exposed. This assumption holds that the labour exerted by a worker, somewhere in both planetary space and time, is that of an organic human being (some would see this as an anthropomorphic statement). The latter (the physically 3D instantiated organic/meat human being, to be very specific), however, is exactly the manifestation that is being put under erasure by forces driving the development and generalisation of synthetic life, artificial intelligences, and robotised systems, into planetary economic and socio-political reality. 

Is it necessary then, to augment, and extend the concept of labour, to draw its parameters wider to accommodate non/post-human systems? Systems that may be synthetically coded, play an ever increasing role in governments, and corporations’ productivity. As human labour’s share in the economic processes of production dwindle (roles taken over by, or functions overtaken by automation, robotisation, and AI-driven platforms) the challenge is how to keep fair, humane, and legally regulated systems of labour relations in place, for the (limited) human workforce of the future? 

For example, Amazon, in its warehousing and logistics/supply chains, is on a continual quest for increased efficiency via the application of advanced robotic, AI, and unmanned vehicle systems. While human technicians and troubleshooters will always be needed, it is a foregone conclusion that human labour, blood, sweat, and tears, are gradually removed/erased/airbrushed from the production, warehouse, or factory floor equation. Take another example, the number of human hands needed to mass produce motor vehicles in the post-World War II boom decades of the 1950s, and 1960s (especially in the USA), versus the highly integrated and advanced assembly plants of the 1990s – moving into the 2000s. The latter require a fraction of the 3D meat-instantiated human labour (cost) elements on the factory floor, if compared to the assembly plants of the mid twentieth century.

Meaning, human labour is typically one of the main casualties of technical, technological, or computerised/cybernetic advances on the front of productive efficiency. It is possible to ask – Quo Vadis labour relations in the age of erased human/organic labour meat? 

IV – Beware of Autopilot’s Disease 

Blindspot deliberately leaves a whole host of questions up in the thin digital air. But, in order to snake towards the end of this MayDay column, the issue at stake pertains to our current understanding of the appearance of the post-human. AI, robotics, human-machine hybrids, bio-engineered and cloned beings, are all manifestations of how humans, quietly, and by sleight of techno-scientific hand, drifted from being humans, to post-human manifestations, in the 20th century. 

One of the manifestations of this drift towards post-humanism Buiteboer identifies in his book, Searching for Madness in the Method, banned by Amazon inc (more on that in a moment), is the symptomatic appearance of what he labels as – Autopilot’s Disease. 

But what is Autopilot’s disease? In broad terms, Buiteboer defines it as such,

Autopilot’s Disease is about a techno-cultural obsession with removing the meat (the person/human) from the equation (of the future). As journey notes, this book … first has to establish that Autopilot’s Disease festers in techno-utopian conditions. It manifests in a sheepish surrender to what is believed to be the inevitable irrelevance of organic meat instantiated humans. Autopilot’s Disease has persons believe that their meagre abilities, and frail bodies, are bound to be surpassed and eventually supplanted, by the power of the digitosphere, and the mega machine-monsters of metal driven by self-conscious AI.”

Blindspot would also like to share with his honourable editor, that Amazon had recently conducted a so-called ‘content review,’ and found said book (and author/Buiteboer) unfit to breathe digital air on their platform. Thus Searching for Madness in the Method got banned, booted, and bungled out the door by invisible jackbooted digits. Nevertheless. The book is still available as eBook on www.buiteboer.co.za 

While this may seem to be an inconclusive Blindspot column, the editor is requested to allow Blindspot/Buiteboer one more chance. Next month, the editor willing, Blindspot will publish a follow-up, to share a chapter from said book banned by Amazon, with readers. This chapter details how Credo Mutwa, in Indaba my Children, issues a bone-chilling warning of the dangers of Autopilot’s Disease through his telling of the ancient story of the self-driving hut that existed, like a Tesla self-driving car, in the most ancient, and first human civilisation of the Murire/aMurire. Until then, it remains a mystery, over and out, from Bunker 42. 

For More on Searching for Madness in the Method <–click here

Beware of Autopilot’s Disease – Credo Mutwa and the ancient wonder of the self-driving hut – Leadership Magazine July 2023

Blindspot returns with promised follow-up on its MayDay MayDay, for human labour relations, column. Towards the end of said previous delivery, it was promised that Blindspot will lift a chapter from Buiteboer’s Searching for Madness in the Method – a book banned, and bullied out of Amazon’s showroom, by jackbooted digits. 

Without any further ado, a rewind to what Buiteboer means by Autopilot’s Disease,

Autopilot’s Disease is about a techno-cultural obsession with removing the meat (the person/human) from the equation (of the future). As journey notes, this book … first has to establish that Autopilot’s Disease festers in techno-utopian conditions. It manifests in a sheepish surrender to what is believed to be the inevitable irrelevance of organic meat instantiated humans. Autopilot’s Disease has persons believe that their meagre abilities, and frail bodies, are bound to be surpassed and eventually supplanted, by the power of the digitosphere, and the mega machine-monsters of metal driven by self-conscious AI.”

From here onwards Blindspot generally plunges into elements of: 

Chapter 21: A Flashback – Credo Mutwa and the ancient wonder of the Self-Driving Hut.

Autopilot’s Disease can only be understood if an associative research praxis expose not the binaries of code, but the emergence of a networked, extended, and augmented cyborg. This is why Autopilot’s Disease manifests as techno-cultural obsession with surrendering, delegating, outsourcing, and decentralising human functions to an ever growing ecosystem of Robotic platforms, Apps, Clones, Programs, Chip implants, Codes, Computing Clouds, AI’s, Car-and-Plane-and-Train-and-UAV-and-Bot Autopilot/Autonomous systems, way too many to mention.

The digitospherically lobotomised, AI-robotised, and Metaverse-interfaced 21st century person is said to be freed from the drudgery of driving cars, and getting hands dirty with a mop, by way of 4IR Internet of Things devices. Hence, outsourced functions taken up by intelligent machines may not, in themselves, be a problem, neither is it true that these virtual and material machines do not potentially add ‘value’ to human life. 

However, from Southern Africa, one of the most ancient of ancient creation stories document how the first human, and most magically advanced societies ever, paved the path to their demise by dependence on machines, driven by an ancient form of techno-magic. 

Credo Mutwa’s legend informs, pre-empts, and provides a future script from the ancient past, to inform Buiteboer’s diagnosis of Autopilot’s Disease in the turbulent twenties of the twenty-first century. 

A Flashback – Credo Mutwa and the ancient wonder of the Self-Driving Hut 

If a new, more associative research praxis is needed in the 21st century, it may be necessary to open the brackets of method and stylistic strictures. What ‘Method’ usually does is to chop flights of fancy and imaginary journeying off by the knees. Method, if seen in a purified textbook lab-condition (with Sociologists/Psychologists/Politicologists and purists of the Quant & Qual worlds at play) it (Method) would most definitely not allow an essay on ‘Method,’ to suddenly insinuate a story from a legendary, mysterious, and profoundly wise South African – Vasemazulu Credo Mutwa, into the veins of this essaying text. 

However, luckily this essay is clearly not about Method, writ with capital M. This is indeed a search mission aiming to identify madness in the method, and in so doing to determine whether there are any nonsensical concepts and survivors worth rescuing at the site where Method crashed on the shorelines of Pan(dem)ic World, and showed, once and for all, how Mad it, (Method), was, in the first place. 

If the interindividual in this century is confronted with the techno wet dream of a life of comfort and luxury driven by an ecosystem of interlaced and interfaced autonomous- and semi-autonomous systems, then it may be interesting to take a quick Shot’Left into the lands of the ancients. 

Credo Mutwa, in the opening sections of Indaba, my children, tell the story of the origin of origins, and how humans appeared on planet earth. Most strikingly though, the story of the fantastic reign of the First Chief on earth – Zaraleli. 

In this ancient first time a deformed child was born. According to the legends, the wise two headed Kaa-U-La birds warned the mother that great evil will come into the world if the child is to survive. Refusing to oblige to their demand of killing the child, she flees into a deep cave to hide. But there, in that deep cave this child sat at a fire, staring into the flames he melted iron ore from which appeared metallic insect-like creatures. With this self-proliferating army of metallic envoys he conquered the world, and established the first human empire. But, before the emergence of Zaralelli’s empire, in that cave, Mutwa tells us,

“The woman shrieked with horror and undiluted 

fear when she realised her son was in fact creating-

That the tune he was humming was an incantation-

Commanding the hitherto lifeless iron

To assume a shape and Life!”

Is it not fascinating that, according to Mutwa, the evil in the world started with a child casting a kind of magic spell to form iron according to his will. The metallic creature is described as,

“She watched spellbound as the living thing grew

And legs like those of a grasshopper took shape-

Then came pairs of dragonfly wings

And a rat-like shining metal tail, with a sting,

A crystal sting with dark green poison!” 

With his conjured metallic flying insect-soldiers he conquered the world. According to Mutwa, this, the first human empire was the most fantastical the world had ever seen. Mutwa indicates that this was the empire of Amarire, also known as Murire, 

“…in which men lived in shining golden huts

With a life and a conscience of their own. 

They could move from place to place

In accordance with their occupants’ wish.”

Not only did this ancient first empire of humans sport self-driving huts that could transport the occupant from sea to mountain, if that Person desired a change of scenery. No, this first empire lived in a world of animated ‘things’. For example, ingredients for a meal could be placed in a pot, which would then cook itself with no human intervention (today we only have slow cookers that still need buttons pushed and electric cords plugged into ESKOM juice). So-called metal Tokoloshes tilled the fields, tended the flock, and took care of everything (today we do have robots doing our bidding, but, seemingly the first empire on earth had a multitudinous horde of such). Not only that, but, in this first human empire on earth, pots of beer would come floating through the air and deposit contents in an open mouth (imagine a Shebeen where the Hansa, or double whatever, come graciously floating through the air to deposit its contents into an open waiting mouth). But, the result of all this ancient techno-magic is that humans became lazy and useless. The end of the first empire of humans comes with their surrender to an ancient magical science- and associated technology. 

As we consider the techno-horizons open to humanity in the turbulent twenties, is it not appropriate that a story from the ancients say that in a hypothetical deep mythic past, delegation of human functions to magic machines and animated things, led to their downfall? Does Mutwa tell a story of the past, or the future? Does Mutwa’s legend of the self-driving hut warn us of something yet to come?  

‘Method’ squeals from the sidelines, but, Madness tell us that, in an associative way, the slice of legend from Mutwa’s work connects present and ancient past, with the past being a force potentially revealing distances of the future. Method moans that this is mere myth and blabber about urban legends from the deep jungles of time. But, be it as it may, is it not revealing that those ancients, however mad we perceive this story to be, had the thought of a self-driving hut in the first place?

Elon Musk/Tesla, UBER, or Google’s self-driving car projects pale into insignificance in the face of Mutwa’s Self-Driving Hut. The ancients’ imaginary power is on display as it evokes floating pots of beer, and imagine a world where toil is taken up by metallic Tokoloshes (robots). 

The Ancient Egyptian dictum, as it is above – it is below, comes to the fore. Applied in current context: as it was in the ancient imagination, it is in today’s digitospheric imaginary. Mutwa reminds us of not only an ancient possibility, but more so, of the unthought consequences of the Dictatorship of the Digitosphere (DoD). In the case of the ancients it was their laziness and surrender to their magic-carpet, self-driving Hut, auto-Beer-Pot, Magic-Tech world, that led to their ultimate deterioration and demise. Humans deteriorated into lazy sloths with no ambition other than hedonic pleasure seeking, the latter plunging society into chaos and collapse. It can be asked: Mutwa discloses something of the potential outcomes of 21st century Autopilots Disease? The ancient laziness and surrender to Magic-Tech, is perhaps exactly the same phenomenon as the problem of Autopilot’s Disease in the 21st century? Are human descendants of the most ancient ancients, once again surrendering to another form of techno-magic that will lead to their demise through Autopilot’s Disease? As it was in the beginning, will it be in/at the end?

The Cyborg and Posthuman concepts given synthetic life through AI, robotic, and bio-tech in the 21st century, are manifestations, as well as infectious carriers, of the virus that spreads Autopilot’s Disease. The phantom of a disembodied human, a Robocop that retains only the core info-nervous system of the human, neatly grafted into a shiny high-tech metallic wired body, haunts human techno wet dreams. 

The human-machine mash-up gives the term bio-tech a whole new meaning. Is it a question of grafting tech onto and into the meat’s body of flesh, is it that the flesh morphs, and willingly surrenders to its more advanced successor, the transistor, wire, super strong lightweight alloys, and clever Iron Man tricks (who is truly the epitome of the ‘man in a can with parts made in Japan’), to become something else, shaping our understanding of the meat (body of flesh), as original disposable prosthesis?