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"Rethinking of Marxist perspectives on big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and capitalist economic development"

by Walton, Nigel; Nayak, Bhabani Shankar (2021)


AI and big data are not ideologically neutral scientific knowledge that drives economic development and social change. AI is a tool of capitalism which transforms our societies within an environment of technological singularity that helps in the expansion of the capitalist model of economic development. Such a development process ensures the precarity of labour. This article highlights the limits of traditional Marxist conceptualisation of labour, value, property and production relations. It argues for the rethinking of Marxist perspectives on AI led economic development by focusing on conceptual new interpretation of bourgeois and proletariat in the information driven data-based society. This is a conceptual paper which critically outlines different debates and challenges around AI driven big data and its implications. It particularly focuses on the theoretical challenges faced by labour theory of value and its social and economic implications from a critical perspective. It also offers alternatives by analysing future trends and developments for the sustainable use of AI. It argues for developing policies on the use of AI and big data to protect labour, advance human development and enhance social welfare by reducing risks.

Key Passage

Major changes have occurred during the last few decades as a new economic landscape has emerged that is fundamentally different to the industrial capitalist era in which Karl Marx wrote his most important seminal work. The era of the mid to late 1800s was undergoing its own industrial revolution as steam power, factories, canals and railways became the new innovations driving social and economic change. In the twenty first century, however, new Internet technologies, personal and mobile computing, digitisation, GPS and smartphones have created a completely new “industrial” landscape where one of the greatest innovations has been the creation of value through business model innovation using data and information. This value creation process is in stark contrast to Marx`s (1996) labour theory of production and his delineation between the owners of the means of production (the bourgeoisie capitalist class) and the proletariat (working class). The main driver of this new competitive landscape has been the changes that have occurred in the factors or means of production. Factors of production were defined by Marx in Das Kapital (Marx, 1996) as labour, subjects of labour and instruments of labour. The term is equivalent to the means of production (plus labour) and it is therefore very similar to the factors of production concept derived from the classical school of economics, otherwise referred to as `land, labour and capital`. What both Marx (2013) and the neoclassical economists` definitions of the means or factors of production did not include, however, were two new variables commonly referred to today as data and information (information representing processed data). However, when the classical economists identified the key factors of production (Smith, 2010) it wasn`t possible to capture and store data so this wasn’t quantifiable and it was not considered to be a relevant factor. In the twenty first century information age this is no longer the case. (p.2)


Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Marxism, Social Change, Economic Development


Technology, Automation

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