Improving the quality of work

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Spring 2018
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When Mary Shelley wrote the preface to Frankenstein in 1831, the industrial revolution was at its height and society was being transformed by scientific developments that were taking place at a dizzying pace. In Victor Frankenstein, Shelley created a character whose enthusiasm for technological advancement and messianic determination to push the boundaries of the possible embodied the spirit of the age. But the ‘uneasy, half-vital’ being that Victor’s experiment creates turns out to be a monster. Frankenstein is the most famous literary expression of the unease Shelley and her contemporaries felt about the threat scientific advances posed for traditional human society.

Today, a fear similar to the one articulated so powerfully by Shelley is rooted in the belief that ‘half-vital’ robots will invade the workforce, take our jobs and render us redundant in a more fundamental way than simply making many of us unemployed. What societal function will we fulfil when work is carried out by someone – or something – else? How can we prepare for the changes that technological revolution will bring? Can we harness this change in order to build a fairer and more equitable society in which good work pays and bad work – including work which is less well paid, routine or mundane – is taken care of by algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Renewal: a journal of social democracy, Volume 26 No 1