Wednesday, August 26, 2020

It's not the automation

 Kind of a cute premise by Frisco Uplink.

Step 1, invoke Star Trek, the Next Generation episode, "The Measure of a Man" (S02E09), where Picard argues that Data should be considered sentient, because holding him non-sentient risks creating a permanent underclass of disposable exploitable labor.

Step 2, argue that non-sentient supervisory software a la Uber goes the other direction: the supervisory software allows us to treat gig workers such as Uber drivers as disposable exploitable labor. According to the author, "Gig workers are precarious not only because they lack benefits, but also because the everyday bedrock of their work is determined by a black box algorithm designed to extract maximum profit for a distant corporation. . . . Software perfectly shields the humans profiting from this one-sided equation from confronting the personal toll it takes" on their disposable workers.

The author puts too much weight on the means, and the inversion fails. Indeed, TNG gets it exactly right. The decision to classify some beings as non-sentient is the critical act. Once we have decided that some beings are non-sentient, we'll find some means or another — lords of the manor, colonial administrators, overseers, supervisors, software — to efficiently exploit them. 

The bosses have always shielded themselves from the human consequences of their exploitation, and this alienation long preceded capitalism, although capitalism has refined alienation to its purest state (at least so far).

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