Technology and work: Past lessons and future directions

David Spencer (2023), Technology in Society

This paper addresses arguments that suggest life would be better if machines took the place of humans in work. These arguments are highly topical and remain central to modern debates on automation. Yet, as argued in this paper, they have a long history. They draw strength from different ideas including about the value of work and free time. These ideas also fit with broader agendas that address futures beyond capitalism. The paper uses a review of the history of ideas on possible automated futures to develop critical insights into the scope for using technology to work less and better in the future. A key conclusion – again developing ideas from the past – is that automation should promote opportunities for well-being in work as well as beyond it. This conclusion helps to support a politics of automation aimed at securing greater democracy in the development and use of technology in society.

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