Losing the basic insight into machine teleology, which founds accelerationism, seems to be easier than holding on to it. As soon as it is asserted, with a confidence so glib it scarcely understands itself as controversial, that the destiny of machines depends upon lucid, human ethico-political decision-making, nothing that matters is any longer being seen. Machines are reduced to gadgets. The sophistication of machine behavior, through the development of programmable devices, has made this reduction ever-easier to confuse with intelligent apprehension.
The most accessible correction is found in the pre-history of programmable machinery, through the early stages of industrialism. Here the idea of machines incarnating specifically written instructions is simply impossible, which allows the question of teleological development to arise without distraction. An extraordinary text from 1926, entitled Ouroboros or The Mechanical Extension of Mankind, by American writer Garet Garrett illustrates this. Some significant samples:
England was the industrial machine’s first habitat on earth. There fanatical men led mobs against it. […] Frail and clumsy as it was at first, its life was indestructible. And now man would not dare to destroy it if he could. His own life is bound up with it. Steadily it has grown more powerful, more productive, more ominous. It has powers of reproduction and variation which, if not inherent, are yet as if governed by an active biological principle. Machines produce machines. Besides those from which we get the divisible product of artificial things, there are machines to make machines, and both kinds — both the machines that make machines and those that transform raw materials into things of use and desire — obey some law of evolution. […] Compare any kind of machine you may happen to think of what its ancestor was only twenty-five years ago. Its efficiency has doubled, trebled; its shape has changed; and as it is in the animal kingdom so too with machines, that suddenly a new species appears, a sport, a freak, with no visible ancestor.
It is the economic function of the machine to cheapen production. There is otherwise no point to it. But if we say things are more cheaply made by machine than by hand we speak very loosely. What we mean is that a quantity of things is more cheaply made by machine than by hand.
There you have the cycle. The use of the machine is to cheapen the cost of production. The sign is quantity. When the supply at a given price has overtaken the effective demand you have either to idle your machinery, in which case you cost of production will rise, or open a wider demand at a lower price. To lower the price and keep a profit you have to cheapen the cost of production still more. This you can do only by increasing the quantity, which again overtakes the demand, creating again the same necessity to cheapen the cost by increasing the quantity in order to be able to make a lower price for greater demand. The supply pursues the demand downward, through the social structure. […] There is at last a base to the pyramid — its very widest point. When that is reached — what? Well, then you need bazaars in a foreign sun, heathen races of your own to train up in the way of wanting the products of your machines, new worlds of demand. You turn to foreign trade. And if you are an aggressive country that has come late to this business, as Germany was, and find that most of the promising heathen races are already adopted and that all the best bazaar sites are taken, you many easily work yourself into a panic of fear and become a menace to peace. […] What is it you will fear? That you will be unable to sell away the surplus product of your machines. That industry will no longer be able to make a profit? […] No. The fear is that you will starve. Your machines have called into existence millions of people who otherwise would not have been born — at least, not there in that manner. These millions who mind machines are gathered in cities. They produce no food. They produce with their machines artificial things that are exchanged for food. …
Everything that is not still or dead must exist in a state of rhythmic tension.
Commerce itself, if you look at it, is a complex structure of growth for which there is nowhere any original accountability. It cannot change its philosophy, any more than a tree, for it has none. It has insttead a vital instinct for opportunity and a flexible way with necessity and circumstance. There is no hope of its being reformed ideally by mass intelligence.
Garret’s machine-based core teleology of industrial modernity is both extremely comprehensive, and clearly explained. The whole argument amply rewards absorption. At the end of it, the idea that the problem of what machines might ‘want’ is reducible to a ‘Friendly-AI’ –type concern with the details of programming is exposed in its full, ludicrous inadequacy. The first step has been taking to digesting our contemporary concerns, such as this, in a framework appropriate to their seriousness.