The recent research on the new stage of automation and robotic production, just now reaching the mainstream press, is indeed stunning. Just in the past few days, we've seen a major series of 3 articles by the Associated Press, and a CBS 60 Minutes feature:
The Associated Press series on the Great Recession, Automation, and Job Losses
(1) Recession, Tech, Kill Middle Class Jobs
Paul Wiseman and Bernard Condon, AP Business Writers
"Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines; an Associated Press analysis finds that the future has arrived...
The numbers startleeven labor economists. In the United States, half the 7.5 million jobs lostduring the Great Recession were in industries that pay middle-class wages,ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. But only 2 percent of the 3.5 million jobsgained since the recession ended in June 2009 are in midpay industries. Nearly70 percent are in low-pay industries, 29 percent in industries that paywell."
(2) Practically Human, Can Smart Machines Do Your Job?
Paul Wiseman, Bernard Condon, and Jonathan Fahey
"To better understand the impact of technology on jobs, The Associated Press analyzed employment data from 20 countries; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, CEOs and workers who are competing with smarter machines.
"The AP found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. Jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia.
"So far, public attention has focused on the potential threats to privacy as companies use technology to gather clues about their customers' buying habits and lifestyles.
'What is lessvisible,' says software entrepreneur Martin Ford, 'is that organizations arecollecting huge amounts of data about their internal operations and about whattheir employees are doing.' The computers can use that information to 'figureout how to do a great many jobs' that humans do now."
(3) Will Smart Machines Create a World Without Work?
Paul Wiseman and Bernard Condon
"They seem right out of a Hollywood fantasy, and they are: Cars that drive themselves have appeared in movies like "I, Robot" and the television show "Knight Rider."
Now, three years after Google invented one, automated cars could be on their way to a freeway near you. In the U.S., California and other states are rewriting the rules of the road to make way for driverless cars. Just one problem: What happens to the millions of people who make a living driving cars and trucks - jobs that always have seemed sheltered from the onslaught of technology?
"All those jobs are going to disappear in the next 25 years," predicts Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston. "Driving by people will look quaint; it will look like a horse and buggy.
"If automation can unseat bus drivers, urban deliverymen, long-haul truckers, even cabbies, is any job safe?
Vardi poses an equallyscary question: 'Are we prepared for an economy in which 50 percent of peoplearen't working?'"
The CBS 60 Minutes interviewwith MIT economists Brynjolfsson and McAfee, co-authors of last year's Race Against theMachine, who are making a serious attempt to interestpeople in the the notion that automation, especially its acceleration over thepast decade, explains more about the current economic crisis than cyclicalityand stagnation:
In light of what is going on today, it is indeed interesting to read Marx's section on "Internal Contradictions" in the Capital Volume 3 chapter, "The Law of the Falling Tendency of the Rate of Profit":
"A development of the productive forces which would diminish the absolute number of laborers, that is, which would enable the entire nation to accomplish its total reproduction in a shorter time, would cause a revolution, because it would put the majority of the population upon the shelf...The absolute spare time gained by society does not concern Capitalism. The development of the productive powers concerns it only to the extent that it increases the surplus labor time of the working class, not to the extent that it decreases the labor time for material production in general. Thus capitalist production moves in contradictions...We have seen that the growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus the power of capital, the personification of the conditions of social production in the capitalist, grows over the heads of the real producers. Capital shows itself more and more as a social power, whose agent the capitalist is, and which stands no longer in any possible relation to the things which the labor of any single individual can create. Capital becomes a strange, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as a thing, and as the power of capitalists by means of this thing. The contradiction between capital as a general social power and as a power of private capitalists over the social conditions of production develops into an ever more irreconcilable clash, which implies the dissolution of these relations and elaboration of the conditions of production into universal, common, social conditions."