Stage 2
Live Translation
Whose Future? Automation anxiety, ecological apocalypse, and the struggle for the future of labor

Short thesis

There has been much recent discussion about the impacts of new technology on work. There is a fear that robotics and computerization can displace and dislocate workers, and possibly lead to mass unemployment. While the technologies are new, this basic dynamic is hundreds of years old, going back at least to the industrial revolution.

The impact of automation on workers is often presented in a mechanical or deterministic way, as if technology determines economics. But really, the future of work in the context of automation is always a political question.


For with each cycle of technical change, the same social conflict recurs: will technology be used to ease life and liberate us from labor, or to subordinate us even more to alienated work? Will we, for example, use increased productivity to drastically reduce working hours, or will new technologies merely allow employers to more tightly control their workforces? Why are we not working 15 hour weeks, as the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930?

I want to emphasize, ultimately, the political and social *conflict* around work and technology. Just as much as technology affects work, I argue, it is the collective struggles of workers that shape the direction of technology. Thus I sketch some of the political shifts that must occur in order for the future of work to be one of greater abundance and leisure for all, rather than a future in which increased wealth is monopolized by a small class that owns the robots.

A whirlwind tour through science fiction, social theory and the new technologies already shaping our lives, my talk  is a balance sheet of the socialisms we may reach if a resurgent Left is successful, and the barbarisms we may be consigned to if those movements fail.