The bold demands on the cover of Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams generated much popular discussion on the Left. Sadly, none of these demands will serve to provide better auspices for the great majority of humanity. These demands are worthy of attention because of the apparent sincerity with which they are declared, not because they are ambitious, but because they are not nearly ambitious enough.
Demand full automation: As long as the automation is monopolized by capital it will first and foremost serve to precaritize and exploit labourers and their class.
Capitalism will not automate itself out of existence. It will not eliminate the workforce, and it will not even try. What it will do is create a deskilled workforce, ever more dependent on capital for the ability to produce, and create a divided workforce, that does not share a common proletarian consciousness, thus diffusing its class power. And, for when and where discontent does bubble up, it will automate the deadly force required to repress uprisings. The brutal Enforcement Droid is much more viable than the pleasant robot servant.
Demand Universal Basic Income: This is a neo-liberal ruse to side-track more fundamental demands for socially provisioned basic needs, such as health care, housing, and education.
UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you ‘choose’ to spend your UBI on fast food and gambling and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, or have health care, its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them.
Demand the Future: The Future can only ever emerge from the present. Left concern for the Future requires the thoroughest concern with the conditions of the vast majority of humanity on earth right now. When Full Automation is advocated with only a vague reckoning of the destruction automation has historically wrought for humanity up to this day, S&W are clearly not with us here today on the ground but off in high concept.
The left imagination, it is claimed, has been invigorated by S&W’s provocations. Such vigor would be well channeled then towards elaborating practices and politics which can fundamentally improve the lot of the great majority of people on the earth right now. Part of this will require us to look soberly at the kinds of technologies we are told are inevitable and evaluate their applicability towards the general emancipation we demand.