Mario Laul

Dec 9, 2020

12 min read

The Great Automaton

Automation and Progress

The ability to invent and use tools is a defining attribute of Homo sapiens that led to the emergence of civilization. A key concept for framing the subsequent effects of technology on society is automation: any technique that reduces the need for human assistance in performing a task or completing a process.

Automation as Freedom and Control

Manual work — be it physical, emotional, or intellectual — plays an important role in personal learning, development, and satisfaction. There is dignity and creativity in work done by hand, and considerable economic and social value is created through skillful human effort.

Automation and Human Action

The effects of digital automation on human behavior are part of a more general problem known as technological determinism: to what degree do material and technological conditions generate cultural practice? Or to put it more provocatively: to what degree are humans themselves an object of automation? [5]

Automation and Decentralization

An important recent development in the evolution of digital automation is the emergence of decentralized blockchain and smart contract networks, which enable Internet-native forms of economic organization, signaling the deployment phase of the ICT Revolution. [6]

Conclusion: The Political Economy of Automation

Automation is an outcome of humanity’s socially determined impulse to build and experiment, and a systemic tendency of any civilization geared towards material growth through technological innovation. There are two sides to the consequences of automation. On the one hand, by amplifying the productive capabilities of society, it expands the built environment, thereby increasing material convenience and well-being. As such, automation is a sign of economic inventiveness and progress. On the other hand, automation also raises a number of difficult economic, social, and philosophical challenges. Addressing these challenges is the core purpose of the political economy of automation, which can broadly be described as dealing with three sets of issues:


[1] Whitehead, A. N. (1948). An Introduction to Mathematics (p. 42). Oxford University Press. (Originally published in 1911.)

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