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New Left Review I/151, May-June 1985


Ian Steedman

Robots and Capitalism: A Clarification

Tessa Morris-Suzuki has opened up an interesting and necessary discussion of the consequences of automation in manufacturing and of the associated rapid growth of the software industries. [1] Tessa Morris-Suzuki, ‘Robots and Capitalism’, NLR 147, September/October 1984. I should like to thank D. Elson, D. Evans, N. Geras, A. Glyn, G. Hodgson and L. Mainwaring for helpful comments. As she shows, using Japanese data, the use of robots, etc., is now developing at a speed which makes it important to think clearly about the theory of the automated economy. In her view, ‘such economies are not merely a theoretical possibility but are actually appearing before our eyes’ (p. 112). Technological forecasts are notoriously unreliable (and prone to fashion) but one does not need to accept any particular forecast concerning the date by which automation will be achieved—or, indeed, to accept even the forecast that it will be completely achieved—in order to agree with Morris-Suzuki’s statement that ‘the task of analysis and debate [has] very real importance and urgency’ (p. 112). The powerful trend towards automation is itself sufficient to make that task important, whenever—or even whether—the trend will come to complete fruition.

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