As sewbots threaten Asia's sweatshops, we need to decide who will benefit from automation


Originally published at:


There’s one under every house, you just don’t know it.


Of course, “we” really needed to decide how the benefits of automation were to be shared about 40years ago.

Unfortunately, the solution chosen by those with power was that all the benefits should accrue to capital, and screw everybody else. Any form of countervailing power structure, such as organised labour was crushed or sidelined, and that grim consensus has existed without challenge for all that time.


FYI AdDetector says that Guardian article is sponsored content paid for by Business Call to Action.


Well put.

I’m confused by the infographic. Savings of $180,000? Per what? Per the entire US economy, per year? Because that’s a pittance.

EDIT: Oh, per five years? So $36,000 for the whole garment industry to split 900 ways?


The original motivation (at least some of the first arguments) for off-shoring was the cost benefit of cheaper labor being greater than the overhead of shipping raw material to manufacturers and finished product to retailers and consumers. What makes locally-based sewbots highly attractive would be their flexibility in addressing changes in the market (consumer) demands. This latter factor is a major weak-link in keeping any manufacturing off-shore–or, at least, distant from end-product consumers. Longer the lines of logistics, more precarious becomes the overall process of production.


When you phrase it as being a threat, it sounds like you have already decided, and decided badly.

I am not convinced. How are we choosing to define “capital”? The average person has capital because they are where the ideas come from, and who implements them. The authority of governments and thus corporations derive from the masses - unless people are fooled into believing that some “management class” acts on their behalf. Unfortunately, most who complain about their perceived lack of power and cultural capital don’t actually make any efforts to negotiate with corporations, or force compliance of their governments.

Of course those institutions do make real problems, which IMO should not be unexpected. What intrigues me is the problems with organizing either opposition, or pro-active parallel strategies. Much of the left has become so bourgeois that they seem to specifically shy away from anything which actually makes a practical difference, preferring instead symbolic forms of protest to voice impotent displeasure. As the old saying goes, “Wish in one hand and spit in the other…”


I think the study and people in general are missing something when talking about automation and not talking about the impact at the personnel level. I want and there are those who are working on a robot that can do everything I do around the house and more. Not only cook, clean with my existing tools but then to move on to do things like maintenance, planning, farming and then since it will have extra time (runs 24/7) it can leave my house and start helping in my community. Time it spends helping others means time others (robots) will come help when I need it to do a bigger job that it can’t do alone. We are fast approaching a time where the only thing we have to get from outside the home is the internet and there rest of life’s necessities and perks can be created on site once setup is complete. This will change our relationship to money and that would be a good thing.


See, I would love to believe that widespread automation of labour will end in Culture-style anarchist communism, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t think it will.

At least not without a metric shed-load of streetfighting on the way, and I’m a wuss when it comes to political violence.


Another plan for a model society where everybody contributes in the way they choose. Such a society would have plenty of artists and other creatives and nowhere near enough garbage men and proctologists.


I, for one, welcome our robot proctologists.


Contributory Income, sounds complicated. Who sets the price for what activity? Any means testing will lead to some people being left out… Do they still get welfare?


When jobs no longer exist because of automation, how does one get $$$?


Didn’t say jobs would never exist, (there will still be a lot but just not the need for everybody to work 40hr/week+) but you can get $$ by overproducing needed things: power, food, make craft beer…


And so, the need to make a living will still be a problem, yeah?

Mid-century liberalism focused on the concept of full employment, right? Over time, the cost of goods increased, yet there were waves of instability in the job market. People eventually lost jobs or were laid off as the nature of the economy changed - ie, more jobs went overseas, with lower labor costs. What happened to the people who lost those jobs due to the runaway factory effect?

All that’s pretty well established history, I think we can agree. Nothing I said here is particularly controversial.

Note also that there were similar views of automation back when the US had a larger manufacturing base, but the reality was much messier and disruptive to people’s lives.

I think it would be more helpful to look at the impact real world automation has had historically and then try and think through possible solutions to make the transition easier. I’m not sure if “overproducing” as individuals on it’s own is going to solve the problem, though.

And I’m no fan of the 40+ week model, but I also realize that as long as corporations have a strangle hold on our economy, figuring out alternatives is going to be tricky and possibly bad for larger portions of the population.


I don’t think that I have been clear. If your home and it’s automation (robot and robotic devices) produces clothes, food, power, water and can recycle waste why do you need work at all except for when you want to? Working is good for you in limited amounts and when you are doing what inspires you. I like my job, but I don’t want to do it 40hrs/week and the only reason I do do it 40hr/week is because I need to have clothes, foods, power water etc.


Let’s face it. Many jobs these days are soul killing unnecessary make work. If robots can do it and people could work when they want to on what they want to instead as a cog in some mega corp that could be replaced at any time then I don’t see why we don’t embrace it.

Sure we would have to rethink this whole capitalism thing, but really how good is capitalism working out for most of us?


When jobs no longer exist because of automation, nobody needs $$ (or yuan, or Euros, or bitcoins).

That is supposed to be the point of technoprogress.


Well put! I am terrible at posting this kind of idea because I don’t have ‘the best words’…


I think there are some misunderstanding about “Plaine commune”.
Plaine Commune is an “Intercommunality”. Intercommunalité in French.
An “Intercommunality” is a cooperative of commune in France.
The goal is to share the cost of some public services ( garbage collecting, water, etc…)
The Communes of the Seine-Saint-Denis department is part of Plaine Commune, and it’s one of the poorest departement in France, with a lot of immigrants.
I suppose that the goal of Stiegler is to reinvigorate that community by the creation of some sort of “knowledge economy”