H10(a) - Public Life in a Digital Age
Date: Jun 3 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location:
Chair/Président/Présidente : Jimmy Lim (McGill University)
Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Simon Lambek (University of Toronto)
The Leisure Ethic: A Response to the End of Work, Automation and Artificial Intelligence: David Tabachnick (Nipissing University)
Abstract: The “end of work” has been weighed and considered by economists and philosophers for decades. Today, we seem upon the cusp of this event, with millions of manufacturing jobs already displaced by better and cheaper forms of automation. Similar but less anticipated displacements are predicted in the service sector with the rise of artificial intelligence. On the one hand, we see “technical” crises associated with the end of work such as high unemployment and an associated decline in income tax revenue. On the other hand, we also will be faced with “ethical” crises in the after work world. In technological societies, there has been a close connection between work and human fulfillment. When that means for fulfillment is eclipsed, it remains unclear by what other means individual humans will find purpose and meaning in their lives. There have many proposals and pilot projects to address the first set of “technical” issues. New programs such as “guaranteed basic income” to compensate for a sudden decline in the need for work might help protect the consumer model at the basis of advanced economies. But such programs will not address the deeper, even existential, ethical crisis. By exploring alternative conceptions, it might be possible to revive older ideas of human fulfillment. The development of a "leisure ethic" may be a worthy if not better replacement for the antiquated "work ethic" in our age of advanced globalization and technology.
Algorithmic Governance and the Rise of the Social: Re-reading Arendt in the Digital Age: Kiran Banerjee (Dalhousie University)
Abstract: This paper explores how political theory can help us appreciate the contemporary relevance and conceptual implications of algorithmic systems and big data for our understandings of politics and agency. It does so by interrogating these now ubiquitous features of the digital age against the backdrop of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958) and the theoretical categories deployed by Arendt to analyze what she called the ‘Rise of the Social’ in the modern age. The increasingly wider application of algorithms has triggered recent debates regarding transparency and accountability in the deployment of data-driven approaches to public policy. However, I argue that the apparent novelty of the challenges raised by algorithmic systems and the growing prominence of ‘data science governance’ obscures how the deeper philosophical challenges these developments raise to our notions of agency, freedom, and judgment, are continuous with far earlier historical developments - specifically the modern emergence of a ‘stochastic worldview’ and the subsequent ‘discovery of society’ as a field of study and intervention. Drawing on Arendt’s account, alongside the interventions of Foucault and Polanyi, I show how this broader historical process troubles or complicates our traditional political concepts and that the growing application of algorithmic systems represents a considerable intensification of these fundamental challenges that requires our theoretical attention. The paper addresses this demand by analyzing the implications of our contemporary situation through an Arendtian framework, examining how such developments upend the notions of ‘public’ and the ‘private’, as well significantly complicate our conceptions of agency and responsibility.
The Genealogy of the Smart City Utopia: Thilo Schaefer (University of Toronto)
Abstract: In her book Utopia as Method, Ruth Levitas demonstrates how exploring the utopian dimensions of contemporary phenomena can help theorists better understand, and on occasion reconcile, normative political differences. This paper examines the utopian dimensions of the “smart city.” Smart city projects, loosely defined as the integration of information and communications technology into the urban fabric, are becoming increasingly common across Canada. For example, London (Ontario) is currently developing a draft strategy for increasing the role of information technology in municipal service delivery and infrastructure management. The heavily publicized proposal by Google’s Sidewalk Labs to develop Toronto’s Quayside neighbourhood is another such project. This paper argues that the normative ideals underpinning the smart city have their origins in three distinct histories of utopianism. First, the smart city represents a modern form of the ideal city utopia analogous to visions previously advanced by Plato, Campanella, and Ebenezer Howard. Second, the faith in the power of technology to positively transform our world exemplifies technological utopianism similar to that which permeates the writings of Bacon, Marx, and H.G. Wells. Finally, the market-centricity of smart city projects reflects the influence of what Polanyi refers to as the “stark utopia” of the self-regulating free market as present in theories of Smith, Hayek, and Nozick. This paper ties these three histories together in order to better understand the normative implications of smart city (something, according to Rob Kitchin, frequently neglected in smart city scholarship) as well as political disagreement over how it should operate in practice.