I’ve talked a bit about job automation on this site. For the record, I’m a bit of a cynical optimist, as I am with most things. I don’t think machines will be taking “our” jobs anytime soon but it seems likely that when we do it will largely be for the better…if we can undermine capitalism and the state in the progress. As of right now (and perhaps this is just my perception, I’m open to being wrong) it seems like big corporations are monopolizing automation before anyone else.
And as much as I would rather workers not be under the thumbs of bosses and replace them with robots who are less likely to feel oppressed, etc. it’s not solving the problems of the economy. It instead addresses a symptom of capitalism (economic exploitation) and makes it less notable for human beings.
But none of that stops capitalists from operating under a system that incentivizes and rewards monopoly from companies. And even if capitalists are not exploiting workers they can still just as easily exploit the environment or produce items that may aid the oppression of third world countries in some ways (e.g. war profiteering companies).
That said, if we can gain the benefits of job automation without the losses that systems of oppression such as capitalism, the state, patriarchy and so forth all incur we’ll be in a good spot. The trick is how to get there and to try and convince all of the other folks who are talking about job automation to think about it as well. A political system that elects people like Trump and incurs such losses of autonomy within everyday life, cannot be left alone.
The historical progression of technology has been that, although the rich and the powerful are often the ones to get first access to new and exciting technology, technology eventually becomes much more popular and accessible. Consider everything from telephones, the Internet and computers. All of these technologies were once highly inaccessible to poor and working class people and especially people of color, etc. But as history progressed, we’ve been fortunate to have a mix of hackers, benevolent profiteers, trickle down technology and open source culture to get the rest of us on board.
Ultimately, technology is a genie in the lamp scenario. There’s no way for those on top, without massively overreaching on their already-existing overreaching authority, to stamp down on the progress we’ve already made. Though, that being said, I’m not saying any of this would be impossible to happen, just very difficult with not many good incentives.
My hope then is that as technology advances and corporations monopolize more automated technology, people will be able to use already-existing technology to create their own safety nets. Instead of relying on governments and outlandish notions of a universal basic income, people could create neighborhood associations and mutual aid networks.
The groundwork can already be laid down by anarchists who have organized within Food Not Bombs, from the experiences of organizers within Common Ground Collective and even market anarchist organizations like Fr33 Aid are worth looking into. There’s a wealth of history coming from mutual aid societies and fraternal lodges as well.
All of this brings us to the topic of day about robots and their eventual domination of the job economy. Whether we have to even worry about any of the above entirely depends on how much robots succeed at replacing humans in the first place. People have differing views but the most common one I’ve heard is the admission is that while humans will be replaced (and perhaps to an overwhelming degree) our creative endeavors will be left entirely alone.
Thus we humans will have much more time and energy to provide towards creative efforts and (ideally) on things we enjoy doing as opposed to working in (for example) retail. Robots cannot reach our level of creativity because ultimately robots are not human and any attempt to surpass our sense of creativity has already failed.
This is partly true, but as Andrew McAfee proposes, definition like this often rely on a very limited notion of what it means to be creative:
One of them that I walk around with is the ability to come up with a powerful or a useful legitimately novel idea. I think that’s what creative people, whether they are innovators or entrepreneurs or investors or musicians or painters, a lot of what I think of as creativity is this eureka, this coming up with something that’s valuable or valued and also pretty novel.
Machines can do that now by any definition they can do that in lots of different domains.
There’s a rapidly growing field called generative design and what that means is if you feed into a modern piece of technology the specifications that you want this building to be able to handle or this heat exchanger or the frame of a car or some kind of part out there in the physical world that has to meet some performance specifications or fit inside some performance envelope we’ve got software that will generate a part that will do that admirably.
What McAfee eventually concedes is that while machines can be creative they lack the sort of intuition about the human experience that can compete with our own. You’ll notice this when you see AI attempt to create inspirational quotes or do elongated prose or try to create music with lyrics that have any semblance of logic to them.
Still, perhaps there’s a chance in the future that AI will be able to write documents, create meaningful poetry and do full length albums as well. The question requires us to come face to face with this possibility and decide what our lives would be without creative outputs and without the more soul-sucking work of retail.
But a question like this is framed incorrectly.
As Angela Zutavern points out, the final outcome should not be machines and humans trying to out-compete each other out of existence itself. Instead, the future should be made up of beneficial cooperation.
For example, when it comes to doctors:
…their jobs will be completely disrupted and changed. We will no longer rely on a doctor’s knowledge or experience to diagnose and treat diseases. Instead doctors will become interpreters of models.
Perhaps there’s also a future where humans need no longer apply to jobs at all. But there’s likely going to be a place for us in the near future and even further into that where we work alongside robots. Eventually, I think there will be a future where robots will be writing (and cogently!) articles like I’m writing (though perhaps slightly better) but at that point I think technology will have advanced far enough for us to meld with robots.
At which point transhumanism wins and this whole debate becomes pointless.
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