CARLOS MARTINEZ recommends a book which shows how radical technologies could have a positive impact on our lives
Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life
by Adam Greenfield (Verso, £18.99)
THIS latest book by Adam Greenfield does an excellent job of introducing non - specialist readers to some of the game-changing technologies that are transforming our lives and that are set to affect the social, economic, political and cultural evolution of humanity.
Among the technologies discussed are the smartphone, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, the internet of things and crypto-currencies. Greenfield, assuming no prior knowledge, explains what all these things are, how they have come about and are shaping our existence today and speculates as to their role in our collective future.
As impressive as all these technologies are, Greenfield gives a profound insight into how little of their potential is currently being used in a way that improves human wellbeing.
Monopolised by enormous corporations — what Greenfield calls the “stacks” of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft — vast networked systems have been developed in order to sell us more stuff we don’t need, to keep tabs on us or to increase profitability by replacing manual labour with robots and unemployment.
The clear responsibility of these corporate monoliths is to their shareholders, not the masses.
The author stays largely focused on describing the problem and only touches on potential solutions, so as to open up further discussion.
For socialists, the vision of a brighter future should be somewhat clearer. All these technologies hold incredible potential for improving humanity’s conditions of existence. They could be set in motion to avoid famines, manage floods, give us more time for learning and culture, deepen our collective understanding of the universe, help preserve the environment, bind communities together and improve democracy.
It is a great irony of our era that modern capitalism has produced some remarkable innovations but it will require a socialist system for the majority of people to properly make use of them.
With common ownership and management of the economy, the sky’s the limit in terms of how technology can be mobilised in the public interest. There’s a reason people talk about “fully automated luxury communism” rather than “fully automated luxury capitalism.”
We instinctively understand that a fully automated economy under capitalism would lead to the most horrific inequality, poverty, unemployment, repression and all-pervasive misery.
But in a society based on equality and common ownership, automation simply means that we as a species can devote less effort to drudgery and more to living interesting, fulfilling and happy lives.
In that sense, the time is riper than ever for socialism, which doesn’t of course preclude learning some lessons from capitalism in terms of ensuring continued development of the productive forces.
Radical Technologies is a very valuable contribution to the discussion about what that future should look like.
Available at the reduced price of £15.19 from Verso Books, versobooks.com