Jamaica LANDS
Left Alliance for National Democracy and Socialism

Opinion Pieces

These are opinion pieces, written by members of the party. They may or may not reflect the official position of the party.

Navigating the Automated Economy

Recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and (specifically) Machine Learning have fast tracked the rate at which machines will replace humans in the workplace. Prior to these advances machines in the workplace could only perform pre-programmed tasks (for example, a robot that boxes items on an assembly line). This was great for highly repetitive tasks that needed to be done with precision each time, but not so great in the realm of flexibility and troubleshooting. Meaning, we programmed the machines to do what we want them to do, in the way we best knew how to do it. AI presents the opportunity for a machine’s input as to what the best/most efficient way to perform a task is, and also (the machine/AI) writing code to execute these tasks.

“Safe” fields are those which involve:

1)      Manipulation - Oral Surgeons, Makeup Artists, Chiropractors, Fire Fighters, etc…

2)      Creativity - Choreographers, Curators, Art Directors, Musicians & Singers, etc…

3)      Social Perception - Mental Health Workers, Clergy, Nurses, Coaches, Teachers, etc…

Likely fields to be automated include (but are not limited to): Loan Officers, Receptionists & Information Clerks, Paralegals & Legal Assistants, Retail Salespersons, Taxi Drivers/Chauffeurs, Security Guards, Fast-food Cooks and Call Center Workers.

What is the Government’s position on the threat that automation poses to job security locally? One could argue that a portion of these advancements won’t have an effect on us in the near future, but as for the ones that do? For example, the BPO sector is “ripe for automation” yet the Government plans to “employ over 300,000 individuals in the sector within the next few years”.  

Businesspeople aim to have as little Marginal Cost as possible when providing a good or service. It is very likely that when Loan Officers, Receptionists & Information Clerks, Paralegals & Legal Assistants, Retail Salespersons are automated, the software will be available for purchase. Do we trust the Government enough to interject when local businessmen attempt to cut staff in favour of automation?

I am all for the use of technological advancements, but not at the cost of the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands. I am calling for the government to develop policies which seek to protect individuals displaced by automation, if not protecting their jobs, then providing them with basic income consistent with living expenses.

There is much to be gained by automating many of our sectors, but we must ensure that local living conditions are enhanced as a result. We must ensure that those with capital are not the only ones to benefit from these technological advancements and that the lives of the population are made easier. These advances are to bring more free time and prosperity to the working class & poor, not unemployment and destitution.

Universal Basic Income has been a key topic of discussion lately among policy makers & academics alike. One does not have to be a leftist to understand the necessity of universal basic income in an automated future. There will be less jobs and therefore less money for people to spend within the economy which results in less economic activity (no one can buy the cheaply made goods). One can then say that it is indeed within the best interest of the capitalists to provide the displaced population with universal basic income. As socialists, we must ensure that the basic income provided is enough for people to live comfortably and enjoy the benefits of their years of labour towards an automated future.

One argument proposed against UBI is that “if people get paid to do nothing, then they will not work” – Rubbish. With the gained free time, people can now seek more fulfilling work and pursue their passions without fear of the economy punishing them for doing what they love. 

The Government’s hesitance to embrace advancements in renewable energy has already left us with a relatively high cost of production on the global market. This failure is met by low wages paid to our employees in order to reduce marginal cost.

I am therefore calling on the Government to research how we can benefit from what is being described as “the third industrial revolution”. What strategies we can implement in order not to be left behind once more. The restructuring of education and how we subsidise it is very necessary. We must place focus on the fields that will reap the highest benefit in the automated future.

Jonathan Orgill