Automation, Utopia and Postcapitalism

This presentation discusses the cyclical nature of automation anxiety and discusses ways of thinking about the recurrence of automation debates in culture, particularly with reference to the 1960s and today. It draws on the concept of topos drawn from Erkki Huhtamo as a way we might think about the return of automation anxiety. It focuses in particular on recent left thinking where automation is used to invoke a postcapitalist utopia. Examples here include Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work and Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. These invocations of automation in contemporary thinking can be productively compared with the way in which automation functions in Herbert Marcuse’s work.

Ben Roberts is Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Sussex. He has published widely on philosophy of technology, particularly the work of Bernard Stiegler. He is currently completing a monograph entitled Critical Theory and Contemporary Technology and editing (with Mark Goodall) a collection called New Media Archaeologies. He is PI of the AHRC Automation Anxiety network.