Between 1780 and 1850, in under three generations, a sweeping revolution, without precedent in the history of humanity, changed the face of England. In 1944 Dr. Eric Williams published Capitalism and Slavery.

The Williams thesis held that capitalism as an economic model replaced slavery once the bourgeoisie had accumulated vast surplus capital that could be used to bankroll the industrial revolution.

Williams argued that the transatlantic slave trade enlarged the pool of investable funds which resulted in a pattern of trade that encouraged industrialization.

According to Williams, after slavery provided the material foundation and the trade infrastructure that undergirded Europe’s dramatic transformation towards modernity, there was a hurried decline in slavery during the early nineteenth century.

As the new global standard of industrial capitalism took hold, Williams argued that antislavery sentiment quickened in support of an apparently more efficient and less capital-intensive method of commodity production.

Capitalism and Slavery has four central threads that bring coherence to the varied tapestry of its arguments:

  • the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was an economic phenomenon;
  • plantation economies of the British West Indies were the drivers of the Industrial Revolution;
  • that after the American Revolutionary War plantation economies declined in profitability and importance to England; and
  • that abolition and emancipation were driven not by philanthropy and benevolence, but by economic motives.

The Industrial Revolution inspired many innovations that changed the world forever. The Industrial Revolution, which started in Britain before sweeping through Europe and the USA, is traditionally viewed as the deepest mutation ever known to have affected humans since Neolithic times.

Some of these creations include the first water-powered cotton spinning mill as a model for the modern-day factory, the steam engine as a main source of power for a large variety of British industries, and novelties like the typewriter, and the electrical telegraph.

It is clear that the Industrial Revolution fashioned the face of a new opulence in industrial and economically advanced societies. Equipped with new technologies, the new industrializing economies were henceforth able to produce an increasingly larger quantity of products to export and to satisfy new consumption habits and aspirations.

Throughout history, humans have experienced technological change. The Sumerian people of Mesopotamia had a flair for innovation that included hydraulic engineering, writing, the chariot, the plough, bricks and, mathematics.

But only rarely has technology fundamentally transformed the political and social structures of societies. It is more often the case that we see that the recognizable categories and pre-existing frameworks that we use to order our social world simply assimilate, accommodate, and absorb new technologies. The recognizable categories are hardly ever disrupted. EVs are replacing combustion engines but without forcing a total shift in social structure.

Drone technology has replaced the musket in warfare but the conventional activity of the infantry has remained unaltered. While this is true, it is also a fact that many new machines are being transformed by AI. As more and more software incorporates AI and begins to operate in ways that humans did not directly create or not fully comprehend it is clear that AI will become a fluid augmenter of our capabilities and experiences both influencing and learning from our decisions and apprehensions.

Perhaps it is causing knowledge to recede from us. The change is perplexing and profound. AI entered our lives with stealth and we remain passively unaware of what it is doing.

We now stand at the edge of the end of a hypothesized superiority of human cognition, together with the proliferation of technology, and tools that can surpass human reasoning and intelligence.

This shift is unlike every other industrial revolution and promises profound transformations beyond those during the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment that was enveloped by Rene Descartes maxim, Cogito Ergo Sum, Capitalism and Slavery, and a monopoly of information that was once held by the church.

AI is changing human thought, knowledge, perception, and how we relate to reality, according to Kissinger, Schmidt and Huttenlocher in “The Age of AI” (2021). It has no empathy, curiosity, worry, or any need for friendship. Unlike fashion or film, AI is not an industry.

It is not even a domain. It is in fact a field. A group of practitioners, digital natives and migrants, critics, aficionados, scientists, bureaucrats, developers, futurists, and users.

It is an enabler that will alter policing, culture, music, the ecology of schooling, new concerns in law related to negligence, algorithms that detect and counter disinformation and those that sow discord and hatred, distribution of bespoke messages to various demographics in politics, detecting new molecular relationships and defining properties of compounds that humans have never defined nor perceived.

Ultimately, the idea of a free society and even free will may be altered. AI accesses reality differently from humans, and it may access aspects of reality that are unknown to humans as we create and proliferate nonhuman forms of logic with influence and sharpness.

AI has made it possible for us to stand on the edge of a new ending and to envisage an age in which machines, tools, and technologies become our partners. It is a shift that is neither redemptive nor threatening.