April 2016

As ice melts in the face of the rising sun, decent paid jobs are melting with the rise of artificial intelligence and the logic of capitalism. Artificial intelligence [AI] resides in computers and robotics, it is here, it is everywhere. As our society is presently construed it will hasten the growth of wealth disparity heralding widespread destitution, which in turn will promote crime as a natural equaliser. In traditional industry, the workers sold their labour power to those who owned the means of production, this brought the classic division in society, between those who sought to buy labour for the minimum cost and the worker who sought to sell his or her labour power for the maximum price.

Robot Hand

However, the future expansion of capital will be driven by AI and robotics, more efficient, trouble and strike free.  The contradiction of the diminishing purchasing power of the majority and thus their ability to consume and provide further profits for capitalism, is offset by a few factors; a reduction in the cost of commodities by outsourcing to low cost economies and increasing the flow of credit. At the same time, capital strives to eliminate social organisations and enterprises and to privatise and draw profit from every social asset, media, education, health, roads, parking, water and all avenues of communication. State agencies that enforce the rights of property, and exploitative contracts will, themselves, fall more under the influence of, and into the hands of private interests. While the relationship between those who had jobs and their employers was alienating, a situation where the majority can no longer get any decent work or play any real part in production, will be worse. Without a revaluation of political philosophy, the mass of society is likely to drown in a combination of alienation, stifled media, corporate sport, shallow entertainment and fear. The rise of such a dysfunctional state will accelerate the use of drink, drugs and suicide as a solution.

Opportunities appearing to produce job security are now more likely to quickly turn into false dawns. For example; students were urged to learn to code if they wanted to succeed, a proliferation of coding schools and boot camps emerged However, as the skill became more commonplace, particularly in developing nations like India, much of the work is being assigned piecemeal by computerised services such as ‘Upwork’ to low-paid workers in digital sweatshops, a trend that is bound to increase. It then looked a better to use coding skills to develop an app or platform and sell it in competition with thousands of others doing the same thing on an online marketplace. A forum that is swamped by choice and ruled by the same power dynamics as the digital music business.

While it is essential that many in this digital society should be familiar with how these platforms work, universal code literacy won’t solve the employment crisis any more than the universal ability to read and write would result in a full-employment economy of book publishing. It actually does the opposite. A single computer program written by perhaps a dozen developers can wipe out hundreds of jobs. It has been established that digital companies employ 10 times fewer people per dollar earned than traditional companies. Every time a company decides to relegate its computing to the cloud, it reduces its workforce. Modern technologies, replace more employment opportunities than they create. Those that don’t—technologies that require ongoing human maintenance or participation in order to work—are not supported by venture capital for precisely this reason. They are considered unsaleable because they demand more paid human employees as the business grows.

There are of course jobs for those willing to assist with the transition to a more computerised society. For example, self-checkout stations may have cost supermarket cashier jobs, but provided opportunities for some to assist customers scanning their items at the kiosk, and swiping their debit cards. It’s a slightly more skilled job and may even pay better than working as a regular cashier. But again it’s a temporary position: Soon consumers become as proficient at self-checkout as they are at getting cash from the bank machine, and a checkout tutor will be unnecessary. In another few years, digital tagging technology will permit shoppers to leave stores with their items and have their accounts debited automatically.

Likewise, specialists will be required to fit current cars with robot drivers, engineers to replace medical staff with sensors and to write software for postal drones. There will be an increase in specialized jobs before there’s a precipitous drop. Already in China, the implementation of 3-D printing and other automated solutions is threatening hundreds of thousands of high-tech manufacturing jobs, many of which have existed for less than a decade. Once the robots are in place, their continued upkeep and a large part of their improvement will be automated as well. Humans may have to learn to live with it.

This conundrum was first articulated back in the 1940s by cybernetics pioneers as they studied the “post-industrial economy and continues unabated. Extensive research shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that technological progress, eliminates jobs and leaves average workers worse off than they were before. These developments are not merely the consequence of digital technology, but the realisation of the profit drive to remove humans as much as possible from the value equation. The growth of technology is often equated with economic growth, neither of which mean more jobs or prosperity for the people living in it. As some have said, ‘when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?”

When technology increases productivity, a company can eliminate jobs and use the savings to reward its shareholders with dividends and stock buybacks. What would have been lost to wages is instead turned back into capital, the only ones left making money are those depending on passive returns from their investments. Digital technology accelerates the process where we can all see the change occurring, but due to an endemic poverty of philosophy and the blanking out of such conversations from the body politic, society has not taken notice yet. Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. In the previous generation an individual on the average industrial wage could comfortably support a partner and raise and educate a family, this is no longer the case. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our political skills and organisations are static.

The essence is that a poverty of philosophy exists in the heart of science. This poverty of thought is an objective part of invisible government, the dictatorship of capital reflects its ethos through all the mechanisms of education, information and entertainment media. It does everything in its power to mask out any alternative dialogue.

However, the laws of dialectics, lessons of history and cycles of quantitive and qualitative change are on the side of a resolution, if not revolution. Hope lies in the realisation by the great mass of people that the nightmare scenario of a totally dysfunctional society may be avoided and the social order can move in a different direction. It can and must extend democracy over economics, in fact for the survival of society as we know it there may be no choice. It is now a race between the forces of reason and empathy, organising, against the harbingers of capital concentration and climate change.  This is a race that must be won, for the logic of the existing trajectory is war. That would indeed be a tragedy, for with the material and technological advances that our species has achieved, never before in human history have we had the resources and the potential to provide “to each according to their needs and from each according to their ability”.