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Tools Have Led Us to Technological Unemployment, but Humans, too, Have a Right To Work
Gabriel Rothblatt   Aug 27, 2015   Ethical Technology  

For millennia, Humans have been crafting tools. We don’t hold a monopoly on the trade, but we’ve done it better than any other species. So good, our entire evolution has been crafted around our dependence on them. With our anatomical features and vulnerabilities, it was perhaps predestined that we would not only master tool making, but become dependent upon it. What came first, the human or the tool?

Throughout history we have created tools and harnessed technology because they make our jobs easier. The small decrease in work effort grew slowly over eons, but has recently hit the exponential curve. We no longer only make tools to lessen labor, we make tools to take away jobs. I generally avoid Nazi Germany comparisons but the quote below seems apt when we examine how tools have led us to technological unemployment.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

When the printing press was invented, there were no revolutions over the loss of scribes. No one stirred much about the invention of the cotton gin because only slaves were picking cotton, if a few of them were out of a job, it didn’t affect the free citizens. When cars came about, we didn’t cry over the loss of stable operators; we were too busy feeling the wind in our hair. When the computer was invented, we leapt with joy as the greatest threat to our ability to earn a living hummed to life. Now that there are no physical tasks, and few creative ones, that are left unmechanized, who will speak out for yours?

I live in Florida, which is a ‘Right to Work’ state. These laws are meant to declaw and neuter the voice of working families. While I don’t agree that union dues should be mandatory, or that a simple majority should bring a corporation to its knees at will, we do need to look seriously at the world we are creating. Will it have a place for us in it?

In a free state, when citizens have the freedom of speech and the right to congregate, unionization is the natural outcome. A democracy is nothing but a union of citizens, collectively bargaining for better peace and security. The plummeting union membership in America, should have been our canary in the coal mine, pardon the pun. We banned the very word communism, then let the trade unions die out, one by one. I am not a leatherworker, I am not an elevator operator, I am not a teacher, I am not a pilot, but now… who will be left speak for us? Androids?

Labor is much more than a job, bureaucratic busy work, and tasks to justify a paycheck. It’s what we do to live, it gives us identity, purpose, it is the common human religion. To paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, our business executives have been so preoccupied with how much money they could make removing the need for human labor, they never stopped to think if they should.

As we begin to experience the g-force of the exponential acceleration of technological unemployment on our economies and in our societies, it’s important to note that all technology is simply a tool to help us ‘even.’ It’s our failure to realize that they are here only to assist - not replace. When we allow the tool or process to remove us completely, we threaten ourselves.

That’s why I asked the AFL-CIO to sit down with BINA48 and begin laying out the framework for the Technological Union Of LaborerS (TUOLS) which would ensure that human labor and an egalitarian share of technological production would be respected. This would be akin to a ‘three laws’ or code of ethics that android and robotic labor would respect.

Just as we have seen with all earlier technologies, it’s the consciousness behind it, not the object. Tools allow us to do everything better, even the bad things. But overall technology has played a beneficial role, and will continue to do that. Everything technology does, is eventually done better, than humans have done it. Is there any reason to assume that the ethical treatment of laborers will be any different? Simply “being” is not enough, we must have purpose. Technology is great, its part of who and what we are, but we, too, have a right to work.

Sermons in Erlangen, Marburg, Göttingen and Frankfurt (January 1946), as quoted in Martin Niemöller, 1892-1984 (1984) by James Bentley, p. 177.

Infographic credited to Pew Research


Gabriel Rothblatt is an Ambassador for the Seasteading Institute, a member of the Board of Directors for Terasem Movement Incorporated and the Lifeboat Foundations Futurist Board of Advisors. He is a former US Congressional Candidate in FL-8, the Space Coast of Florida.

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