Finance Work The future of work is … slavery

The future of work is … slavery

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Famed economist Yanis Varoufakis is predicting a rise of “magnificent machines” will precipitate the fall of capitalism and a return to a kind of feudal slavery.

The crucial question is whether humans will be the masters of this new tech-based economy … or its slaves.

Dr Varoufakis makes the bold prophecy during a lecture entitled ‘The Death of Capitalism’ recently uploaded to YouTube.

The flamboyant academic, who was very briefly the finance minister of debt-stricken Greece between January and July 2015, tells the audience at the The New School for Social Research in New York that the currently “rudderless” world order will be subverted by technology.

“The world we live in is increasingly rudderless, in a constant slow-burning recession, while at the very, very same time the increasing concentration in the IT sector is creating the new technologies that will do that which the left has failed to do – overthrow capitalism.”

yanis varoufakis
The left-wing Varoufakis says politics is crucial to economic change. Photo: Getty

Dr Varoufakis is a big believer in technology. During his brief stint in Greek politics, he was reportedly days away from implementing a form of electronic peer-to-peer lending between the Greek government and its citizens that could have allowed it to repay debt – and even be exchanged as a form of digital currency. EU leaders forced his resignation before the system could be put into use.

In the video, he says super-intelligent machines capable of passing the famous test of consciousness devised by Alan Turing in 1950 will be part of the foundation of this new economy.

“The moment machines pass the Turing test properly and you pick up the phone and you do not know whether the person that you are talking to is a human being or a machine; the moment we are going to have 3D-printers operating as public utilities [where] you can send anything, any blueprint to it and it can print from one pin to a motorcycle or to a car; the moment that this happens we have not just the process of Schumperterian creative destruction, but you have a process where economies of scale and the whole logic of corporate capitalism collapses.”

newsreader robot
Japanese scientists unveiled Kodomoroid, the newsreader robot, in 2014.

Austrian-American Joseph Schumpeter theorised in 1942 that the dual creative and destructive forces of capitalism would eventually cause its own demise. Dr Varoufakis agrees.

“And at that point we have a major rupture. The political system, which has been completely depleted of any semblance of democracy, will not be able to regulate. At that point, humanity will be facing a juncture.”

The juncture he predicts is one where humanity will either ‘enslave’ technology for the good of humanity, or miss this golden opportunity and thereby plunge itself into further wealth inequality.

“We either move to a Star Trek-like utopia where technology becomes our slaves and we manage to utilise its wealth-creating capacity for the purpose of the common good … or we are going to move towards a Matrix-like dystopia where humans, independently of whether they are the owners of these magnificent machines or the masses who are miserable and completely cut off from productive society, we will all become servants of the machines – in exactly the same way that Mary Shelley described [in her novel Frankenstein] and Karl Marx followed in Das Kapital. The choice will depend on democratic politics. The choice is everyone’s.”

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