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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 February 13 - 19  > Depending on workers' struggle, AI can become tool to shorten working hours
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2019 February 13 - 19 TOP3 [LABOR]

Depending on workers' struggle, AI can become tool to shorten working hours

February 19, 2019
"Society 5.0", as the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) puts it, is a "super-smart society" where artificial intelligence (AI) and "internet of things" (IoT) are widely utilized, the fifth phase of socioeconomic development after the hunting-gathering, agrarian, industrial, and information societies.

According to Keidanren, in Society 5.0, AI-installed robots will do the work for human beings based on a huge amount of data and will free people from troublesome tasks so that everyone will be able to enjoy a more comfortable, lively, and better quality of life. Various media and even schools now paint it as a rosy future, giving many people, especially the younger generations, an illusion of future bliss.

However, Makino Tomio, an advisor to the labor thinktank Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement, says that any argument that lacks an analysis of class is very harmful to workers and the labor movement.

A joint research group of Oxford University and the Japanese leading thinktank Nomura Research Institute estimates that 49% of the labor population in Japan will be replaced by AI and robots in the next few decades.

Makino predicts that the introduction of AI as a tool of "streamlining" under capitalism will "replace" ever more workers. He says that if workers and the general public remain ignorant of the dangers of AI, they will be thrown into a storm of "streamlining by AI" and an age of unemployment could arrive.

At the same time, Makino says that if AI-installed robots are introduced to benefit workers, these robots can become tools to halve working hours even under capitalism.

No matter how advanced AI becomes, it is manmade. It initiates "deep learning" based on mega-data and may outperform humans in some specific areas, but it will never be able to totally bypass humans.

Makino emphasizes that it is therefore possible for workers and unions, depending on their struggle, to make AI an instrument to shorten working hours even under capitalism.
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