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Thoughts about work 2/2

Over the centuries, increasingly sophisticated tools and machines have advantageously replaced the physical strength of animals and men. The former are no longer raised for labour (ploughing, labour) but for their proteins (milk, eggs, meat). As for the latter, their jobs have shifted from the primary sector (agriculture and livestock) to secondary (industry) and then to tertiary (services). They fled to roles where their bodies were less and less stressed. And to avoid atrophy, we even invented sport.

And then, more recently, computers were invented. They are capable of automating intellectual tasks. Let’s start with memorization (who now remembers more than 10 phone numbers?) then calculations (who would still be competitive with a computer to perform calculations?). Overwhelmed by the machine in these simple tasks, and rightly feeling liberated, men concentrate on other more complex tasks.

In a permanent search for efficiency, men themselves invent machines (algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence) that make them obsolete in increasingly complex tasks. We are certainly creating new jobs, more and more qualified, and therefore more and more expensive. But obviously much fewer are created, for a very simple reason: the aim, let us not forget, is to improve efficiency, i.e. reduce production costs, in order to be more competitive with competitors and more profitable for shareholders.

In short, machines gradually liberate men from the slavery to which they were, in various forms, forced from immemorial times (biblical word). In other words, the machines become the new slaves, at the service of their owners. We no longer speak of “employers” when it comes to machines. The only disadvantage of human slavery was that it was ethically unacceptable. But when it comes to machines, you no longer have to be a hypocrite.

An image to illustrate: let us imagine pennyless and feeble humans dropped in the Mississippi of the 18th century. Not strong enough to work effectively in cotton fields, not rich enough to pay themselves slaves. Their life expectancy in these conditions would be very limited. Yet it is the world that is being prepared for us, so better to be prepared for it.

What about the compensation we were asking for earlier? It is logically to be found in shareholding (institutionalized or not), and no longer in work.

Some scenarios described in the CNRS journal.

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