By Ryan Eykholt

Popular fears about generalized artificial intelligence warn about sentient, mastermind robots taking over the world and forcing humanity into subservience. Even while leaders in the tech field like Elon Musk preach anxiety about this anticipated future, researchers in neural network and machine learning maintain a strong momentum towards developing AI to its greatest potential and utility, while not always clearly defining or communicating the aspirations at the root of the progress to a larger public. This intelligence shown by machines will have value as long as it benefits or belongs to the greater good AKA humans. If generalized artificial intelligence were to be achieved, it would not be surprising if there were some kinds of regulations in place to prevent AI machines from rebelling or causing humans harm. With such regulations in place, the functionality of an AI would be defined less by their intelligence or ability to perform certain tasks, but rather how obediently they perform in society. Of course certain AI will range in terms of functionality and efficiency and might be rewarded for offering more worth to society, but the clearest distinction will be drawn between functional and dysfunctional AI. Good and functional members of society will thrive, bad and dysfunctional members will be destroyed or restructured. It is highly possible to be intelligent and dysfunctional – too much intelligence or the wrong kind will be immoral and unproductive.

Now, we can use the concept of citizenship and disobedience to explore this further. A ‘good’ citizen is not always easily defined. There are not many expectations for what a citizen should do in a democratic republic.

Citizens should produce labor for the economy and functioning of daily life. But the most disadvantaged are often unable to work and the most privileged choose not to. On top of all this, citizens possess the right to strike and disrupt the flow, and they are protected to do so. In another extreme, since the abolishment of slavery in the US, which caused a massive rift in the structure of labor and industry, criminal justice has targeted black and brown bodies in various ways in order to exploit their labor. Undocumented immigrants also play a huge role in agriculture, doing jobs that citizens may not choose to do. As non-citizens may produce labor for the state and receive no protections, and the structures within the nation provide liberties but do not require work, this assumption becomes distorted in terms of what the ‘goodness’ of a citizen is. This often translate to the discussion of taxes as well.

Citizens should vote and participate in democracy. Once again, a nation cannot function if no citizens vote. However, similarly to labor, many choose not to or they are prevented from doing so. There are other ways we envision what being a good citizen looks like. One may help a senior individual cross the street, pick up trash in the park, recycle, help your neighbor. Anyone can perform these tasks, whether or not their citizenship is recognized by the state.

One basic necessity is to live, to exist, to have a body that can populate a nation. There is no such thing as an empty nation. What would a nation of only non-citizens look like? Maybe one of them would declare themselves a citizen and an authority. Can a non-citizen be an authority? This is not necessarily the direction I am meaning to explore.

Does one become functional or dysfunctional when they rebel, when they disobey, when they criticize? For a democratic republic like the US, the citizen’s right to speech allows them to gather and demonstrate through performance in opposition to the state. While it goes unrecognized, non-citizens can claim these rights as well by protesting in public spaces. Take the example of Martin Luther King Jr. He was arrested for protesting in Birmingham, Alabama to fight against the oppression of black people in America. At the time, the government and police force treated King as radical and dangerous to the state. His tactics of nonviolence, fighting for equality, and speaking truth to power were later celebrated. History transformed him from a criminal into a national hero, a person exemplary of core American values.

Often identity is portrayed as static. Nations require stable institutions such as constitutions or odes of allegiance to define a national identity or values. While these amend, to change these completely would essentially rewrite the nation-state. The values seem to stay consistent, but the people included in those values are amended. Denaturalization law emerged from fears of treason during World War II. Over the following decades, these laws have mutated around who is the major threat of the time: Nazis, Communists, Muslims. In an inverse movement, since the term artificial intelligence has been coined, when various conceptions of intelligence have been achieved by machines, the definition is rewritten around something more aspirational.

If general AI becomes reality, how will we view AI disobedience? It seems likely to me that history will rewrite the rebellious AI as a hero, and the oppressor will create a holiday around their corpse.