extracting human value

Automation + Capitalism makes for a perfect storm that many of us will not weather. Does ‘Artificial Intelligence’, the current top buzzword, really mean that we program our biases into automated decision-making systems, seal them in a proprietary black box, and let the status quo reign, with no illusion of ethics, morals, or humanity? Maintaining this status quo is the core operating model of global management consultancies like McKinsey.

“We are now living with the consequences of the world McKinsey created. Market fundamentalism is the default mode for businesses and governments the world over. Abstraction and myth insulate actors from the atrocities they help perpetuate. Businesses that resisted the pressure to rationalize every decision based on its impact on shareholder value were beaten out or eaten up by those who shed the last remnants of their humanity. With another heavyweight on the side of management, McKinsey tipped the scale even further away from labor, contributing directly to the increase in wealth inequality plaguing the world. Governments are now more similar to the private sector and more reliant on their services. The “best and the brightest” devote themselves to client service instead of public service. —Current Affairs 2019-02-05

It is reinforced by an expressed attitude that human work is something that can be broken into components and used like bits of machinery. People are merely the sum of the work that can be extracted from them by the capitalist machine. They have no other value in this economic system, and hence are always viewed as expenses.

“We see a world beyond employment and, arguably, the fundamental underpinnings for a world where work is constantly reinvented. Work is deconstructed into tasks, dispersed in time and space, and executed through many virtual and market relationships other than traditional employment. The organization is permeable, interconnected and collaborative and can change in shape. The reward is impermanent, individually defined and uses imaginative elements such as game points, reputation, mission.” —WillisTowerWatson: Future of Work

But even the mainstream media are seeing that the emperor (Capitalism) has no clothes. It is becoming apparent that there will be no widespread prosperity unless the monopolists, oligopolists, business schools, and management consultancies are reined-in.

‘Automating work is a choice, of course, one made harder by the demands of shareholders, but it is still a choice. And even if some degree of unemployment caused by automation is inevitable, these executives can choose how the gains from automation and A.I. are distributed, and whether to give the excess profits they reap as a result to workers, or hoard it for themselves and their shareholders.

The choices made by the Davos elite — and the pressure applied on them to act in workers’ interests rather than their own — will determine whether A.I. is used as a tool for increasing productivity or for inflicting pain.

“The choice isn’t between automation and non-automation,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “It’s between whether you use the technology in a way that creates shared prosperity, or more concentration of wealth.”’ —NYT 2019-01-25

The technologies that should concern us most are management technologies. Often these are invisible. “Technology is the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems” says Harold Stolovitch.  Management technology defines what problems we are allowed to look at, and which can be ignored. The issue is not re-skilling or a focus on new work competencies. The issue at hand is how our government policies and economic models treat people. Is each individual a unique, complex being with multiple facets, or just a self-driving unit that contains bits of work to be extracted?

‘“Upskilling is not going to alter the insecurities and inequalities,” said Guy Standing, author of “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class,” who spoke on four panels at Davos this year. He said most executives still don’t understand what is needed.

Standing said calls for more education and training were a ‘cop-out’, and that the result would undoubtedly help only a small number of people, which in turn could bring down wages and status in whatever new jobs they went on to obtain.’ —WaPo 2019-01-26

We can do better. Much better.

5 thoughts on “extracting human value”

  1. Andrew Yang, a US Presidential candidate for 2020 (I can’t believe they have to start so early), is basing his platform on providing UBI of $1,000 a month to all adult US citizens, primarily in response to this ongoing automation and AI replacement of jobs. This comes from his broader belief in human-centered capitalism, that humans should be the beneficiaries of the economy and not just inputs into the economy, in which he is addressing many of these challenges. I’m hopeful that even if he isn’t ultimately successful in becoming president that he gets these issues out into more of the public conversation to start driving the solutions we need.

    • I think UBI is one movement in the right direction, though it could backfire and create a sub-class of modern serfs who only have enough money to buy stuff from the monopolists but never rise above this economic state.


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