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Douglas Rushkoff

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - 12:15pm

The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace.

Digital and robotic technologies offer us both a bounty of productivity as well as welcome relief from myriad repeatable tasks. Unfortunately, as our economy is currently configured, both of these seeming miracles are also big problems. How do we maintain market prices in a world with surplus productivity? And, even more to the point, how do we employ people when robots are taking all the jobs?

Back in the 1940s, when computers were completing their very first cycles, the father of “cybernetics,” Norbert Wiener, began to worry about what these thinking technologies might mean for the human employees who would someday have to compete with them. His concern for “the dignity and rights of the worker” in a technologized marketplace were decried as communist sympathizing, and he was shunned from most science and policy circles.

Although it may still sound like heresy today, Wiener realized that if we didn’t change the underlying operating system of our economy—the very nature and structure of employment and compensation—our technologies may not serve our economic prosperity as positively as we might hope.

Douglas Rushkoff is professor of media theory and digital economics at Queens/CUNY, and the author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity.