Autonomy of Artificial Intelligence, Ecology, and Existential Risk: A Critique

  • Karen Asp
Part of the Social and Cultural Studies of Robots and AI book series (SOCUSRA)


In the year that the film Transcendence (2014) brought attention to a speculative, technoscientific discourse on autonomous artificial intelligence (AI), an international campaign was launched to raise awareness about the “existential risks” that AI systems might pose to the “future of humanity” and to “life” itself. Given that the campaign comprised scientists, academics, and entrepreneurs in the field, its paradoxical impetus suggests that AI research is far more compulsively and irrationally driven than its individualistic and transcendental imaginary implies. The chapter juxtaposes that compulsion in relation to the industry’s idealization of the autonomy of intelligence, arguing that these subjective factors are rooted in the rationality of capitalist institutions far more deeply than is commonly appreciated. It shows that the “existential risk” narrative obscures how capitalism drives automation and thus reinscribes the terms of social and ecological destruction on which the logic of accumulation depends. Only by recognizing this institutional context can the future of the Earth and its inhabitants, as distinct from the future of capitalism, be imagined at all.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Asp
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Environmental StudiesYork UniversityNorth YorkCanada

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