“we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another”
With the current technology at our disposal, Forrester Research Institute predicts that 9% of jobs in the United States will be lost to human-free productive forces in 2018 alone.
Looking further ahead, Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, predicts that an artificial intelligence will pass the ‘Turing Test’ by 2029, and reach the point of Singularity by 2045.
The political and social ramifications of this for the labour market are vast. The Obama administration noted in its own White House Report that ‘AI-driven automation will transform the economy over the coming years and decades’, acknowledging the potential for ‘the loss of jobs for some workers in the short-run, and possibly longer depending on policy responses’.
If we follow a generally accepted theory of free-market competition, it is natural to assume that the productive capitalist will take on automated capital to benefit from the resulting super-profits created by a short-term technological monopoly. The natural outcome of this must of such a process, as noted in the evidence cited above, is the potential for mass unemployment in Capitalist economies.
The question arises therefore, is it possible for the Capitalist economic system to survive a future in which we witness mass-unemployment of the working class?
A brief glance at any history book leaves us in no doubt over the impressive durability and adaptability of capitalist economics, but for the material system of Capitalism to survive, the capitalist must have a market for its goods. Without employment, and thus wages, consumers will not be able to participate sufficiently in its economic formula.
Given the realisation of this scenario, it seems that the only way in which the consumer base of Capitalism may be preserved, is through paradoxically socialist policies such as universal, or conditional income (based, for instance, on positive societal impact).
These responses would preserve the Capitalist system of consumerism in the short term, and liberate the working class from day-to-day labour, using an enhancement of the welfare state. (Freedom from labour creates another problem here, see: The tyranny of convenience).
Alternatively, Capitalism may fail to deal with these changes in the structure of society. In this scenario we may envisage a poverty crisis amongst the newly unemployed, and a political backlash against those benefitting from an exponential rise in income and wealth inequality.
Taken to its extreme conclusions, this image is not unlike the dictatorship of the proletariat envisioned by Karl Marx, with workers being freed from alienating labour by the automation liberation.
Whether we see a world containing a new brand of welfare Capitalism, one of technologically-enforced Communism, or something completely new, there is little doubt in my mind that the current economic system is unsustainable given the implications of the automation age.