Automation & Democracy: A Pre-Debate Playlist
Has smart technology made us dumb? Is Western democracy threatening suicide? We’ve explored debates that take on the influence of developing technologies, the evolutions in the modern workforce, and the changes to democracy and civil discourse, but on May 14th, 2018 we explored the confluence of these topics in our debate “Automation Will Crash Democracy.” But before you watch this debate lets review the steps that led up to debating this topic:
1. Democracy Is Threatening Suicide
Do the populist and nationalist uprisings that led to Donald Trump and Brexit signal Western democracy’s certain decline? Or can recent events be seen as part of a healthy and regenerative antidote to policies that have challenged liberal institutions and marginalized the middle class? Some predict that a resilient liberal world order will rally to triumph over fear, xenophobia and fractured political parties – others say that support for autocratic alternatives is on the rise.
2. Universal Basic Income Is The Safety Net Of The Future
As technology transforms the workplace, jobs and income will become less reliable. Their is belief that a universal basic income could serve as a tool to combat poverty and uncertainty in a changing society, and provide a cushion that empowers workers, giving them latitude to take risks in the job market. But some argue a guaranteed income would take away the incentive to work, waste money on those who don’t need it, and come at the expense of effective programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Is the universal basic income the safety net of the future?
3. Artificial Intelligence: The Risks Could Outweigh the Rewards
As technology rapidly progresses, some proponents of artificial intelligence believe that it will help solve complex social challenges and offer immortality via virtual humans. But AI’s critics are sounding the alarm, going so far as to call its development an “existential threat” to mankind. Is this the stuff of science fiction? Could the “Terminator” become reality, or will these fears prevent the next technological revolution?
4. Smart Technology Is Making Us Dumb
Smart technology grants us unprecedented, immediate access to knowledge and to each other—a ubiquitous and seamless presence in everyday life. But is there a downside to all of this connectivity? It’s been said that smart technology creates dependency on devices, narrows our world to echo chambers, and impairs cognitive skills through shortcuts and distraction. Are smart tech devices guiding so much of our decision making that we are losing autonomy without even realizing it?
5. Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere
If we value a free market in goods and free movement of capital, should we embrace the free movement of labor? Reciprocal treaties would allow citizens of the U.S. and other countries to work legally across borders. Would the elimination of barriers in the labor market depress wages and flood the marketplace with workers? Or would the benefits of a flexible labor supply be a boon to our economy, all while raising the standard of living for anyone willing to work?
6. Automation Will Crash Democracy
Around the world, technology is disrupting the workforce, with automation poised to displace humans in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and beyond. Will the rise of robots fuel a new wave of “us versus them” populism capable of undermining democracy? For some, the answer is yes. They argue that as people lose jobs to robots, the gap between the rich and poor widens, distrust in government and democratic institutions grows, and populist ideas become more attractive to those who feel left behind. The importance of work trumps the importance of democracy, leaving a clear path for authoritarians to rise under nationalist messages that pit groups of people against one another. But others paint a different picture: They argue that humans have adapted to – and benefited from – new innovations for centuries. From the advent of water and steam power to computers, work has changed, but never disappeared. And as automation drives higher productivity growth, humans can reach their full potential and pursue societal innovation, allowing more citizens to feel fulfilled and strengthening democracy on the whole.