The Myth of an AI Leisure Class?

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is real and significant. But AI is not new albeit in 2023 it is more focused on machine learning than programming. On a recent trip to Singapore, the rise of robots was clear, cleaning the floors of the airport and moving trays around restaurants, for instance. That said, the hype surrounding AI and robotics taking over mundane jobs or even complex information work, like coding (ChatGPT), reminds many of earlier forecasts of machines taking over mundane jobs. In the process, we were to gain more time for leisure. What else are we going to do with our time once the washing machine and dishwasher replaces manual labour?

Staffan Burenstam Linder (1970), The Harried Leisure Class. Columbia Un Press.

Staffan Linder’s wonderful 1970 book, The Harried Leisure Class, argued that (albeit over-simplified) these new machines won’t create more leisure. Instead, they were having more indirect impacts. First, they were shifting work to different classes of people, such as a washing machine enabling a husband or wife to wash the clothes rather than taking them to a service or being done by a maid. Secondly, the leisure myth neglected to consider the time that would be spent in repairing and maintaining these new devices.

Just a couple of examples, but I would recommend Linder’s old book for any researcher focused on the social and economic implications of AI. It might well remain relevant to this latest revolution.

Comments are most welcome