"Productivity" is for robots

Is "productivity" for robots?

Pointing to a "post-productive" future where economic growth isn't measured by today's standards of efficiency, Kevin Kelly argues that the full effects of ubiquitous networks have yet to be felt.

Productivity is the main accomplishment, and metric, of the two previous Industrial Revolutions. Productivity won't go away; over the long term it will take fewer hours of human work to produce more of the goods and services those economies produce. Our system will do this primarily because most of this work will be done by bots.


Civilization is not just about saving labor but also about 'wasting' labor to make art, to make beautiful things, to 'waste' time playing, like sports. Nobody ever suggested that Picasso should spend fewer hours painting per picture in order to boost his wealth or improve the economy. The value he added to the economy could not be optimized for productivity. It's hard to shoehorn some of the most important things we do in life into the category of 'being productive.' Generally any task that can be measured by the metrics of productivity -- output per hour -- is a task we want automation to do. In short, productivity is for robots.

Call it consumptity, or generativity. By whatever name we settle on, this frontier expands the creative aspect of the whole system, increasing innovations, expanding possibilities, encouraging the inefficiencies of experiment and exploring, absorbing more of the qualities of play. We don't have good measurements of these yet. Cynics will regard this as new age naiveté, or unadorned utopianism, or a blindness to the 'realities' of real life of greedy corporations, or bad bosses, or the inevitable suffering of real work. It's not.

In a lengthier exchange with Kelly, Nicholas Carr demurs, arguing against technology as a moral force. If you think that the future of work is important, and the IdeaFestival certainly does, then spend some time with the arguments that Kelly and Carr advance. Both think deeply about the nature of the Network, which, like it or not, is here to stay.


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