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January 12, 2006

Norbert Weiner on Computer Automation and Work

I've written several entries on the ways in which one economic effect of computer automation is to drive people to develop and market skills that have not yet been automated. Just to make clear that this topic is far from new, and that it has ethical as well as economic implications, consider the following statement about the human impact of computer automation from Norbert Weiner's 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society:

We were here in the presence of another social potentiality of unheard-of importance for good and for evil.... It [technology] gives the human race a new and most effective collection of mechanical slaves to perform its labor.... However, any labor that accepts the conditions of competition with slave labor accepts the conditions of slave labor, and is essentially slave labor.... However, taking the second [industrial] revolution as accomplished, the average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that is worth anyone's money to buy. The answer, of course, is to have a society based on human values other than buying or selling.

Just some food for thought from a half-century ago.

Posted by Robert at January 12, 2006 7:15 AM
category: Ethics | Work

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