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
The numbers startle even labor economists. In the United States, half the 7.5 million jobs lost during
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 jobs gained since the recession ended in June 2009 are
in midpay industries. Nearly 70 percent are in low-pay industries, 29 percent in industries that pay
(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 less visible,' says software entrepreneur Martin Ford, 'is that organizations are collecting
huge amounts of data about their internal operations and about what their employees are doing.'
The computers can use that information to 'figure out how to do a great many jobs' that humans do
(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
"If automation can unseat bus drivers, urban deliverymen, long-haul truckers, even cabbies, is any job
Vardi poses an equally scary question: 'Are we prepared for an economy in which 50 percent of
people aren't working?'"
The CBS 60 Minutes interview with MIT economists Brynjolfsson and McAfee(see http://marxist-
humanistdialectics.blogspot.com/) co-authors of last year's Race Against the Machine, who are
making a serious attempt to interest people in the the notion that automation, especially its
acceleration over the past decade, explains more about the current economic crisis than cyclicality
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
"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."
For dialogue on the recent work by MIT economists Brynjolfsson and McAfee go to