A New Relevance for Socialism?

An interest in the effect of automation on the working class is a lot older than our current predicament posed by intelligent robots. The early communists and socialists dicussed the nature work with increased automation. They did not see it as a curse. It was only a curse within a freewheeling capitalist society, as it would destroy the bargaining power of workers as they are hardly needed. However increased automation does increase the total value creation in society, so there is more wealth to go around. It only becomes a question of distribution.

The early socialist and communists imagined very short workdays and a lot more lesuire without reduced income. Of course it never panned out that way. There was always enough tasks available which a machine could not do. Thus we never experienced lack of work as the early socialists imagined. This time it is different. We are approaching a world where there will be few if any tasks a robot or AI can’t do.

Perbaps that means it is time to re-evalutate our established notions of socialism, communism and capitalism? A state organized distribution of wealth might become necessary. How that happens is of course the big question. Should it happen through some kind of guaranteed minimum income? Or should all the means of production be owned by the state and the proceeds be distribued evenly as in some sort of utopian socialism?

Before dismissing the idea based on historical outcomes, consider how much the equation changes when arificial intelligences will be better at running companies, and doing investments. If no human is needed in the loop, and no typical human incentive is needed, what do we then need capitalism for? Capitalism is about exploiting the inherent selfish nature of human being for the common good. An AI does not need to possess those traits. It might be programmed to operate on altruistic principles instead.

Of course in the short term this is not an issue. There are probably decades before AIs reach that level of reasoning. But I think it is worth reflecting on the fact that our current economic systems are based largely on the nature of human psychology. If human psychology is not involved in the business decision making, that will change the game profoundly.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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