Stuck Between Fantasy And Reality
From the very beginning of industrial era, the idea of replacing humans with machines caught on and has persisted, to the point of appearing credible today. Indeed, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence are raising concerns about the significance of humankind in the future. That still far event horizon forecasts a society lead by strong artificial intelligences which may bring us to our obsolescence. Homo sapiens will be at best forced to the margins of active duty like the utopian post-work post-scarcity society in Iain M. Banks’s science-fiction The Culture Series,; and at worse, wiped out. Because, as Eliezer Yudkowsky said: “The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.”
At the intersection of cryptocurrencies and the “gig economy” lies the prospect of almost self-contained shadow economies with their own laws and regulations, vast potential for fostering growth, and the possibility of systematic abuse.
Toute une série d’articles de presse reprennent régulièrement ce thème vendeur des « robots tueurs d’emplois » : « Les robots, le chômage et les emplois de 2030 » (France Info, 10/05/2015), « Robots au travail : 3 millions d’emplois menacés en France d’ici 2025 » (La Voix du Nord, 25/05/2016)… En même temps, d’autres vont insister sur les nouveaux emplois créés (ingénieur-e-s, technicien-nes…) et soutenir qu’il n’y a pas de crainte à avoir : « Des centaines de milliers d’emplois créés par la robotique » (Monster, 16/04/2015), « La vérité sur les robots destructeurs d’emplois » (Slate, 06/06/2016).
Fellows Kevin LaGrandeur and John Danaher were interviewed by Future Left about the potential impact of automation and computerization on the future of the American workforce. Their comments are included in an initiative to get theAmerican presidential to address this issue in their platforms, and their comments are also included in an article here.
There is a famous story about an encounter between Henry Ford II (CEO of Ford Motors) and Walter Reuther (head of the United Automobile Workers Union). Ford was showing Reuther around his factory, proudly displaying all the new automating technologies he had introduced to replace human workers. Ford gloated, asking Reuther ‘How are you going to get those robots to pay union dues?’. Reuther responded with equal glee ‘Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?’.
What we don’t know can hurt us. In the past year, it seems that 15 years of economic erosion has taken its toll on the wisdom of our 20th century experience. Nostalgic sentiments from an analogue age have seeped into the modern political discourse. Not because, they’ll work, but because people can understand them.
Sir Anthony Barnes (“Tony”) Atkinson is a British economist who has worked on inequality and poverty issues for over four decades. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of the Econometric Society, Honorary Member of the American Economic Association and Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was knighted in 2000. He academically mentored and has collaborated with Thomas Piketty (author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century) and his recent book Inequality: What can be done? was published in 2015.
I think we should avoid letting our ideologies inform our opinions on matters of social and economic policy. What matters is scientifically observed evidence. I support the idea of providing everyone with an unconditional basic income not because I just think it’s the right thing to do, and the best way to make ongoing technological unemployment work for us instead of against us, but because such an overwhelming amount of human behavioral evidence points in the direction of basic income.
I want to start with a thought experiment: Suppose the most extreme predictions regarding technological unemployment come to pass. The new wave of automating technologies take over most forms of human employment. The result is that there is no economically productive domain for human workers to escape into. Suppose, at the same time, that we all benefit from this state of affairs. In other words, the productive gains of the technology do not flow solely to a handful of super-wealthy capitalists; they are fairly distributed to all (perhaps through an guaranteed income scheme). Call this the ‘postwork’ world. What would life be like in such a world?
It’s an old story, going back to the start of the so-called industrial revolution. However, now the prospect of near-complete automation is beginning to seem more credible. This piece recounts how a factory in Dongguan City in China has recently replaced 90% of its workers with robots and seen 162.5% increase in production with a considerably lower defect rate. Various other Chinese factories plan to follow suit.