Don’t Fear Revolution, Fear The Robots
With every shot fired, corpse trampled, and puddle of (deepest red) blood through which you march, you feel the flame of revolution burn hotter. As the workers’ swarm of warriors push onwards through the gates, you gaze up at the bourgeois monolith-in-turquoise that looms above you.
You see it flinch, just for a moment, as it braces itself for the oncoming storm. After all, communism isn’t love; communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy. Standing at the top of the stairs, below an ornate chandelier and amidst the tired corpses of the counter-revolutionaries, you see Lenin himself declaring that the revolution is now complete. In a frenzied fit of solidarity, you hold the scarlet standard high and join your comrades in a passionate rendition of The Internationale.
Now I hate to break it to any “democratic” socialists reading this, but there isn’t going to be a chance for you to fulfill your fantasy of storming The Winter Palace, massacring the Romanovs and implementing “real socialism” any time soon. However, the good news is that the socialist utopia you dream of may be imminent. Astoundingly, it’s not because of Jezza’s enchanting charisma, nor Owen Jones’ truly illuminating anti-capitalist diatribes. Rather, it is due to the steady, but unstoppable, onward march of automation.
I realise that I have just made two outrageous and totally unsubstantiated claims: firstly that automation is going to become a major problem and secondly that the inevitable consequence of this problem is socialism. So allow me to explain myself.
You’ve probably seen the headlines: “The Rise of The Robots”, “The Robots Are Coming for Your Job” and perhaps you’ve heard the seemingly implausible statistics like “half of all jobs will disappear in the next 25 years”. The natural response to this is certainly to dismiss it. After all, even if some jobs did disappear, surely there’d be new ones in their place? Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely true. In the past, when the casandras predicted that automation would bring about mass-unemployment, they were wrong because, with the labour savings made from automation, businesses could invest more, and create more jobs that couldn’t be automated. But the increasing flexibility of artificial intelligence means that there is no guarantee that, in the future, the newly created jobs will not also be automatable. New work will be created, but new jobs might not be.
Machine learning is the ability for AI to learn and improve at performing a task, by analysing data, without being explicitly programmed to do that task. It presents a particularly sobering threat to the future of work. Especially because of how advanced the technology already is. A San Francisco company is in the advanced stages of developing project management software that, when given a task, automates as much of the project as possible, then delegates the remaining roles to internet freelancers. As the software monitors and quality controls the freelancers’ work, it gathers data which it uses to learn to complete the task itself, with the aim of eliminating the need for freelancers in the future. This is what makes the threat of automation so prescient. We are about to enter a time when a computer can learn to do your job better than you just by watching you do it.
Irrespective of whether I have convinced you that automation is likely to become widespread and dramatically increase unemployment, I’d ask you to consider the hypothetical consequences of that sort of unemployment. In a world, perhaps just a decade or two away, where a large portion of the population are not only unemployed but unemployable, how would politics respond? For the left, this is not a challenging dilemma but an opportunity. If a universal basic income, funded by high taxes on the wealthy, is introduced, as unemployment increases, more and more people will be living exclusively on that income.The idea that most people have an equal amount of wealth which is doled out to them exclusively at the whim of the state is every socialist tyrant’s dream. I fear it is now among the most likely outcomes of automation.
At best, a socialist government might offer a national jobs guarantee (this idea is already being championed by a frontrunner for the US presidency Bernie Sanders). But in an age of ubiquitous automation, the consequence of this would be a population dependent solely on the government for work and, by extension, for survival.
We, as Conservatives, have to resist the left’s response to automation because it fundamentally contradicts every conservative principle, like freedom,enterprise and opportunity. But at the moment, we are in no position to do so. Conservative thought has no real response to the automation crisis. Perhaps we would increase the unemployment benefit, or perhaps we would incentivise companies to keep their workers employed, or perhaps we would institute an automation tax. But none of these responses are ideologically Conservative and none of them seem likely to resolve this issue long term.
We as a party are Britain’s final defence against a Marxist government, which is an especially heavy burden to shoulder at a time when technology is offering Marxists the kind of power that 20th Century Communist dictators could only have dreamed of. If we don’t offer the people a detailed, effective set of automation policies, Britain and much of the world could fall to Marxism: not by revolution but by robots.
Member Views is a series of opinion pieces written by Blue Beyond members. Josh is a 16 year old Conservative activist from Canterbury. Besides politics, he loves music and has played the saxophone since he was 8.