Post-labour Society

We will soon have driverless cars, buses, trucks, planes, ships, trains etc. Big stores will have no attendants. It will almost give us an experience of shoplifting. Stores will use automated checkouts (payments) and inventory management. Our biometrics will provide us entry and exit to several spaces. All this will be possible because of advancing AI, automation and robotics. But life will not be same. Several of our human jobs will disappear and will be taken over by automation, AI and robots. This would mean that we are fast moving into post-labour economy. Human employment will no longer be primary to economic production and distribution. We seem to be moving towards an economy driven by productivity of technology rather than human labour. Our livelihood is attached to our labour. But a post-labour economy will break this relation between livelihood and labour. Human labour will become superfluous is such a scenario.

Human labour may be perceived as a bottle neck for a never tired or fatigued machine. Moreover, with AI machines can out smart human beings in terms of speed, accuracy and efficiency. But when we are free from the burden of labour, what will become of our livelihood? Are we moving towards a society where there will be no private property? John Lock taught that property is that which is proper of a human being. It comes into being when humans labour on the raw material given freely by nature. This primary communism than gives rise to private property based on the dexterity of humans. It is on this basis that inequality in a society was justified. In post-labour society, it is not humans but machines that will labour on raw nature and produce what we may call second nature. Thus, what is produced cannot be private property in the Lockean sense. Hence, in some way, we are returning to the primeval communism of Karl Marx. But there are no takers to this primeval communism as we can see that land and its resources are already privatized and Lockean thinking about private property does not hold sway anymore.

Machines have not just displaced humans. They have driven down the prices of goods and services. The coming future driven by AI, automation and robotics promises a production that is better, faster and cheaper than human labour. With less income directly earned from human labour, we will face disruption of everything that is around us. With the de-linking of labour and livelihood and the increase of leisure , we will step into a new world that we have not yet taken time to imagine. In this scenario, humans will have all leisure in the world. It was said that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. What will all play and no work do to Jack? Will this mean humans will be more engaged in creativity, sport, art, research, sciences, care giving, and human connections? While we still have to figure out what we shall do with our leisure, we have to also think how are we to take care of our livelihood. This means we have to find new ways of distributing wealth that is produced by automation and AI. We may have to embrace forms of universal basic income (UBI) to provide households decoupled from labour market.

We may still have big corporates doing business. In such scenario, the Governments will have to levy tax directly on the goods and services produced by robots, AI and other modes of automation and direct this money for providing UBI, health care, education, and other developmental projects that one needs to live with dignity as a human being. The issue is not as simple as we will still need to find the right balance of the supply and demand, which predictive analytics and AI will assist us to find. But sill if we do not have disposable income, we cannot spend and hence demand will die. Thus, above all, we will still need good will that will care about nature and humans. Thus, we need a new social contract between people, big business and Governments.

This new scenario will drive away the Sisyphus from our society. Sisyphus who spent all his life rolling the same stone down the hill represents the labourer who spends his lifetime doing the same job day in and day out. But the fact that the Sisyphus will disappear does not make Hermes irrelevant. We will still need the meaning in life. Thus, sports, arts, science, and religion will be still required to be our companions in our post-labour society. But we cannot certainly enter this new world the way we are now. We will have to transform to belong to the coming future. This indicates that our education has to change. We need to become efficient users of smart machines, AI and robotics. Maybe education has to take what has been greeted as prompt engineering seriously. Religion too will have to change to adept to the coming change. Experience industry will still survive the shift that our post-labour society will bring. Experience industry deals with tourism, entertainment, art, food etc. Human quest for experience will also include religious experience. Religion will not disappear but will have be the chief pillar of God experience and morality of life.

The shift that is going to come may not require us to sweat our brow to earn our living but it will certainly require us to trust more and be generous to share the resources that are both natural and developed by the new technology. We will have to develop support systems that will keep us updated about the innovations and novelties that will affect us as well as we need support systems that will enable us to find dignified means for our basic human existence. When techno-engine becomes the main power steering of our material abundance, we will have the challenge to learn to live as brothers and sisters. Maybe a heartless machine world is going to demand heart driven living from us human. For our own survival, we have to find ways to educate our heart and thus, live and share the world of abundance that seems to be knocking at our door.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao