Category Archives: economics

Robots! Robots! Robots! Part 2: Let the machines do the work

Kneel, puny humans, before the might of Noodle-Bot!

Kneel, puny humans, before the might of Noodle-Bot!

After a brief overview of robots and their form and history in Part One, this post consider the place of robots in industrial economies.  In many respects, the history of the robot is inextricably linked to questions of work and labour. The first use of the word robot was in RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots), a 1920 play by the Cheokslavkian Karel Capek . As Dennis G. Jerz points out, “the Czech word robota means “drudgery” or “servitude”; a robotnik is a peasant or serf.” This link between the robot as worker or labourer is also found in Fritz Lang’s  Metropolis (1927) in which the robot Maria serves as a catalyst for a proletariat revolution. The connection between machine and wage-slave is even implicit in Marx and Engel’s 1848 Communist manifesto in which they warn that, “owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine“. There remains the possibility that industrial robots might one day gain sentience in which case the robot uprising will be less like The Terminator and more like Battleship Potemkin.

Setting the question of robots developing class-consciousness aside (its difficult, I know, but let’s try) we first need a better understanding of just how common the use of industrial robots has become.While we might still be startled to see a robot trundling down the street it is easy to forget the robots are everywhere, often out of sight, whirring away feverishly in factories and warehouses. As the roboticist and human friend Dr Tom Larkworthy once astutely noted, “most robots are just arms“.

A few decades ago this was pretty whizz-bang stuff, as in Hugh Hudson’s iconic ‘Hand Built by Robots‘ advert for the Fiat Strada in 1979:

What once inspired awe and fascination is now taken for granted, if considered at all, but since Hudson’s hymn to the workerless factory the use of industrial robots has increased significantly. In October 2000, the UN estimated there to be 742, 500 industrial robots in use; more than half of which were being used in Japan. By 2011, According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) study World Robotics 2012, there were at least 1,153,000 operational industrial robots and  estimated to reach 1,575,000 by the end of 2015. The annual turnover for robot systems was estimated to be US$25.5 billion in 2011.  (thanks wikipedia!) Continue reading

Posthuman Social Policy

One of the things that comes up when people ask about my thesis (an action they soon regret-I do go on) is a sense of surprise. Not just because I managed to secure funding. More because the idea of the posthuman still has a whiff of science-fiction-with emphasis on the latter- to the general public. Almost everyone is familiar with say, Arnie’s cyborg The Terminator or the super-humans of The Avengers, but the notion that such beings might become a reality are generally dismissed as either ridiculous or thousands of years away. In fact, one of the problems any proponent of Transhumanism must face is the inability of most current humans to think beyond their own lifetime; or to think in deep time, if you like.

Of course, writers like Ray Kurzweill  and others argue for an exponential development of science and technology (see here for more on ‘accelerated change’. In which case our post human future is not a question of deep time but one that requires a public debate in the present. Current developments in techno-science push us ever closer to a point beyond the existential dilemma of knowing who we are to the ethical question of knowing what we want to become. Choosing which of the qualities we have come to define as human we wish to retain. If any.

At any rate, that is a discussion for another post. What I want to do here is present a list of various governmental and parliamentary reports that relate to the development of the posthuman. This is not a complete list, I’m sure there are many more of these from various countries and research groups, so if anyone knows of any please do get in touch and pass them on. I’m sure there’s an interesting comparative study to be done of the local differences of approach. A flavour of such differences may be gleaned here. I’m going to put them in reverse chronological order because I want to end by highlighting the importance of a public debate about post/transhumanism. More importantly, I hope that this list at least provides sceptics with evidence that these issues are no longer the sole province of science-fiction. These are real governmental reports addressing real questions. And of course they are all hyper-linked for your reading and research pleasure. The search for a posthuman social policy starts here!

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Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading

Psychopathenomics 2: Corporate Posthumanism

In a previous post tilted Psychopathenomics I highlighted a number of studies suggesting that the corporate world-especially high finance-attracts psychopathic personalities, and suggested that our current economic and social systems serve both to reward psychopathic behaviors and foster it in others. It got some interesting responses. So in this post I want to suggest that psychopathenomics rests on the production of a version of posthumanity that I’m going to call the Corporate Posthuman. And that moreover this ‘philosophical’ vision of Corporate Posthumanity has serious consequences for the future implementation of Transhumanist enhancement technologies.

(Although some of what follows is bowdlerised from a chapter in my thesis a discussion of the broader themes would take up too much space and lord knows my blog posts are already very long. However, if anyone wants to know more my paper Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives provides an overview of the thesis that should help contextualise this particular variation on posthumanity, while my paper The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman offers a vision of posthumanity that is in many respects the opposite of the Coporate Posthuman)

First of all its important to note that many see the emergence of the Corporate Posthuman as a natural and healthy evolutionary development. Jeffery Skilling, the disgraced former president of Enron, for example, reportedly saw Richard Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene as providing a sort of evolutionary explanation-and impetus-for his own corporate machinations. As discussed in this here video clip from the excellent documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room:

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American Psycho

A number of recent studies appear to suggest a correlation between class and ethical laxity, or to, put it another way, rich people are bad. Now that’s a touch of deliberate bombast based on what for many, myself included, is a healthy, instinctual mistrust of wealth and authority. And for healthy, sane , fully functioning individuals such as us these results will come as no surprise. However, some less well-balanced humans argue that it is an absurd generalisation to claim that all rich, powerful people are liars and murderers so let’s point out right from the off that correlation does not imply causality. Indeed the authors of one studies highlight the fact that “upper and lower class individuals do not necessarily differ in terms of their capacity for unethical behaviour, but rather in terms of their default tendencies toward it” (The Grauniad). Never the less the same authors do claim that self-interest may be a “more fundamental motive among society’s elite” and selfishness “a shared cultural norm“. Continue reading