Debates about automation and the future of work have proliferated in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. From smart software to nimble industrial robots, new labor-saving technologies seem to explain why the post-Recession period has witnessed the decoupling of economic growth and employment. This essay argues that Marx’s contribution to the automation debate is his critique of the contradictions and hollow promises of capitalist technological progress. For Marx, although robots could potentially help transform labor time, they are ultimately frauds that express the emancipatory potential of science and technology in the inverted form of humanized machines and mechanized, superfluous humans.
“Marx vs. the Robots,” in “Marx and the United States,” edited by Dennis Büscher-Ulbrich and Marlon Lieber, special issue, Amerikastudien/ American Studies 62, no. 4 (2017): 619-32.