News & Insight

AI June 12, 2024
AI, Marx and legal issues on the path to abundance

AI, Marx and legal issues on the path to abundance


e are told to believe the hype and sign up to the fourth industrial revolution, this one powered by artificial intelligence[1].  We may not have much choice in the matter.

Karl Marx wrote in 1847, “The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist[2].”  We do not know what Marx would have thought about artificial intelligence nor did we see his reaction to the relentless marketing of what some claim this new technology can do.

We can though assume that the amount of capital being invested into ‘AI companies’ would have caught his attention:

  • In recent days, Mistral is reported to have raised €468 million in new equity capital (€600 million if you include new debt raised) at a valuation of €5.8 billion[3].  That is some going by the Paris-based enfant prodige: it had already raised €385 million at $2 billion in a December 2023 series A[4]; just six months before that, it raised $113 million at $260 million in a seed round[5]; and the company was incorporated only a few weeks before that.
  • Elon Musk’s xAI was reported to have raised $6 billion at an $18 billion (pre-money) valuation[6].  The company was founded in March 2023.
  • Sam Altman, CEO of Open AI, said earlier this year that he wants to raise a scarcely-believable $7 trillion to buy enough chip capacity in order to achieve ‘generalised artificial intelligence’, i.e. a computer programme with human-level comprehension and cognitive capabilities.
  • The company selling the hardware that AI companies run their software on – publicly-listed, Nvidia – has seen its market capitalisation increase by more than 700% since January 2023 to surpass that of Apple and it is closing in on that of Microsoft.

For context, in 1999, Google’s series A round raised $25 million[7].  Facebook’s first institutional fundraise in 2005 saw £12.7 million invested by Accel Partners at a post money value of c.$115m[8].  Uber’s 2011 series A round raised $11m from Benchmark Capital at $49 million pre[9].  More recently still, in 2015 a pre-fall WeWork raised a series E funding round (it’s seventh financing) of $430 million at a $16 billion valuation[10].

Certainly, career-defining bets are being made by venture capitalists on artificial intelligence being a new means of production.  Almost to a certainty, that capital is going to be deployed in ways that will change the lives of certain parts of society[11].

We pause for thought to consider what form of society artificial intelligence will give us.

The answer for now is likely, “more of the same”: i.e. the continuing concentration of wealth and power in the private hands of a tiny handful of individuals and the influence that the major technology companies have on the machinery of government and the appointment of those in power.

That has been the dominant trend for venture-capital backed companies ever since Arthur Rock in Silicon Valley funded the Traitorous Eight to leave Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1957 and found Fairchild Semiconductor, thereby generating wonderful returns for the investors and changing the way in which technology companies could be funded[12].

Perhaps, there is a risk that we will be one day ‘ruled by robots’, but it is hard to imagine what that means without resorting to anxiety-inducing Sci-Fi references.

But there is a pressing risk that parts of the internet may in the years ahead no longer be under the control of human beings and yet be developing ‘their’ own agendas and priorities (and languages that we humans do not understand[13]).  Legal systems and social contracts are spectacularly ill equipped to deal with that because nobody thus far has ever thought to legislate at scale for non-human to human interactions or non-human to non-human interaction.  To date, technology has always been owned and controlled by someone (even if through companies, which are in turn owned and controlled by somebody).

We are not ready for a society where actions with real world consequences can be taken by intelligent actors who are not ultimately owned or controlled by any human at all (and may not even speak our languages).

Whatever the future holds, there has never been a more important time to stand behind the foundations of a democratic society: the rule of law, the separation of powers (state; executive; legislature; judiciary), universal suffrage, and so on.  In all of that – as unfashionable and boring as it may be for the AI marketeers – ‘the law’ plays a fundamental role.  And yet the hype around artificial intelligence currently drowns out discussions of substance, in particular as regards those checks and balances that are to be placed on those who will govern our society (human or otherwise).

Arguably, artificial intelligence technology has developed thus far with precious little regard for the obvious legal and ethical issues.  Perhaps, these things are influenced much less by our choices than by those changes to the means of production.  But that is not a good reason to avoid analysis.  Marx thought that we did in fact have a choice.

As an observation, some of the statements made by Sam Altman[14] and others about the benefits for mankind of the revolution in artificial intelligence bear a striking resemblance to Marx’s vision for a post-capitalist society.

Here is Marx, writing in 1857, explaining that the post-capitalist society will involve the “free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.[15]

He could have been writing marketing materials for artificial intelligence in the present day (and Marx is similarly-criticised for failing to explain in detail what living in a post capitalist society would actually be like).

And yet Marx’s own material was taken up by others and had the most far-reaching effects imaginable on the events of the 20th century.

Sam Altman was interviewed by TIME magazine in 2023 and said, “I think we see a path now where the world gets much more abundant and much better every year, and people have the ability to do way, way more than we can possibly imagine today…[16]

One wonders if sufficient thought is being given to the route that path will take.  Altman in that same interview says, “no one knows what happens next.”

With all that in mind, we will be using this platform on the HLaw Insight pages to publish periodic thoughts about the legal issues resulting from the evolution of artificial intelligence.

This piece was written by Henry Humphreys.

All the thoughts and commentary that HLaw publishes on this website, including those set out above, are subject to the terms and conditions of use of this website.  None of the above constitutes legal advice and is not to be relied upon.  Much of the above will no doubt fall out of date and conflict with future law and practice one day.  None of the above should be relied upon.  Always seek your own independent professional advice.

Humphreys Law



[1] According to McKinsey, “Steam propelled the original Industrial Revolution; electricity powered the second; preliminary automation and machinery engineered the third; and cyberphysical systems—or intelligent computers—are shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” What is industry 4.0 and the Fourth Industrial Revolution? | McKinsey

[2] Marx, Poverty of Philosophy (1847)

[3] Reported by Sifted magazine here: Mistral closes €600m at €5.8bn valuation with new lead investor | Sifted

[4] Reported by TechCrunch here: Mistral AI, a Paris-based OpenAI rival, closed its $415 million funding round | TechCrunch

[5] Reported in TechCrunch here: France’s Mistral AI blows in with a $113M seed round at a $260M valuation to take on OpenAI | TechCrunch

[6] Reported by the Guardian here: Elon Musk’s xAI raises $6bn in bid to take on OpenAI | Elon Musk | The Guardian

[7] Its press release here: Google’s Very First Press Release (

[8] Reported in TechCrunch here: Accel Partners’ Extraordinary 2005 Fund IX | TechCrunch and in the Harvard Crimson here: Firm Invests $13M in Facebook | News | The Harvard Crimson (

[9] Reported by TechCrunch here: Huge Vote Of Confidence: Uber Raises $11 Million From Benchmark Capital | TechCrunch

[10] A history of the rounds here on StartUp Ranking: WeWork Funding Rounds | Startup Ranking

[11] If the bubble bursts in some terrible way, then we will still see that change as it would likely make a lot of people working for AI companies unemployed and mean that a lot of VC funds would go out of business.  People would also need to find other things to write about on LinkedIn

[12] Wikipedia has a history of the tale: Traitorous eight – Wikipedia

[13] The Independent reported that Facebook had shut down an AI project in 2017 after “after two artificially intelligent programs appeared to be chatting to each other in a strange language only they understood”

[14] See his thoughts here in 2019 for instance when he was President of YCombinator: Sam Altman on AI: Jobs may go away, but massive abundance likely (

[15] Marx, Grundrisse (1857)

[16] Sam Altman on OpenAI and Artificial General Intelligence | TIME

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