For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Technological unemployment and human disenhancement"

by Loi, Michele (2015)


This paper discusses the concept of ‘‘human disenhancement’’, i.e. the worsening of human individual abilities and expectations through technology. The goal is provoking ethical reflection on technological innovation outside the biomedical realm, in particular the substitution of human work with computer-driven automation. According to some widely accepted economic theories, automatization and computerization are responsible for the disappearance of many middle-class jobs. I argue that, if that is the case, a technological innovation can be a cause of ‘‘human disenhancement’’, globally, and all things considered, even when the local and immediate effect of that technology is to increase the demand of more sophisticated human skills than the ones they substitute. The conclusion is that current innovations in the ICT sector are objectionable from a moral point of view, because they disenhance more people than they enhance.

Key Passage

I provide the example of innovation in machine intelligence, which substitutes human skills characteristic of middle-class jobs, making these jobs redundant. As an effect, more people may be forced to find jobs that are less amenable to automation, but which, paradoxically, may turn out to be less desirable than the jobs most humans could find in the past. This undermines one of the arguments supporting machine use, namely that machines substitute men in hard physical tasks, then release man from the burden of heavy workloads, hazardous work environments, boring and repetitive tasks, and close supervision by other humans. I will argue that, given the tendency of job polarization we already observe, the opposite may turn out to be the case. By eliminating predominantly middle-skills, middle-class jobs, ICT technologies may ‘‘disenhance’’ more individuals than they enhance. (p.201)


Artificial Intelligence, Worker Replacement, Disenhancement, Unemployment, Technology, Automation


Unemployment, Automation

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