TUMBY BAY - Back in the 1980s I decided to add a major in Government to my 1970s double degree in Literature. One of the subjects concerned the impact of technology on paid employment. At the time there was a wide body of literature on the subject. The consensus was that new technologies would do away with the more arduous and soul destroying aspects of work and increase workers’ leisure time.
This optimistic outlook never eventuated. Instead of cutting workers’ hours, employers used the new technologies to increase worker productivity and employer profits.
As a consequence workers found themselves working the same hours to produce increased profitability for their employers rather than accruing any benefits for themselves.
Employers also discovered they could maintain productivity levels with less workers - and began sacking workers.
Now we have artificial intelligence (AI) and the same claims are being made about its potential as we heard 50 years’ ago about the new technologies.
Nowadays, however, employers don’t seem nervous about the social impacts.
They’re openly talking about how AI will bring increased output with less, or even no, staff and the increased profits to be harvested.
It is a typical profit-orientated capitalist reaction.
What they are doing is ensuring massive profits for themselves as the expense of ordinary workers.
In a perfect world AI could be used for the benefit of everyone, not just the greedy few.
But shorter working hours, greater leisure time and enhanced lifestyles for ordinary people is just not a consideration these days, just like 50 years’ ago.