Art & Automation

February 19 2018

The future of the artist in an automated society

If complexity presently outstrips human capacities to think and control, there are two options: one is to reduce complexity down to a human scale; the other is to expand humanity’s capacities. We endorse the latter.1

Estimates suggest that anything from 47 to 80 percent of current jobs are likely to be automatable in the next two decades.2 My research therefor focusses on the future of the creative and cultural sector and the opportunities that an imminent automation of work would entail.

Could the artistic profession become automated? The answer lies in the profound analysis of the differences and similarities between the intrinsic value of the artist in the society and that of other occupations. This comparison not only has an impact on the general artistry but questions the position of the artist regarding the labor market and visa versa.

In hindsight, the tendencies or the 'common sense' of a society are often easily formulated. In the present it becomes rather difficult. They are incentives, flows or movements towards the future; a general consensus or a public opinion; a collective memory. The common sense represents a framework that shift slowly but steadily, revealing certain topics and making them debatable, concealing others that were debatable before in the proces. 

Predicting, discovering and responding to these tendencies is a very powerful methode of operation. It gives a grip on the currents of a society, sometimes in short term, mostly on the long run. The methode enables the artist, designer, writer, thinker … to install a progressive construction that impacts the current generation and helps shape the future. 

In the past 30 years, our current, western society has become more and more based upon neoliberal principles, spearheading certain fundamental ideas: efficiency, direct economic utility, computability, standardisation, specialisation, globalisation.… These principles have seeped deep into our common sense, making it safe to speak of a neoliberal hegemony. They influence our perception about labor, freedom, safety, authenticity, humanity, value, up to a extremely personal level. It is therefor very difficult to form an objective view on this complex social structure. 

As a result, the purpose of this study its to focus on one of the mayor excesses of the neoliberal thinking: the increasing general application of automation.  

The key questions are: how can the artist renew his relevance in a society affected by an ever accelerating wave of automation? How can the artist make use of this social shift to control or steer this tendency? Can the artist get a grip on the dimensions of automation and use this to construct the automated future?
1 Srnicek, N., & Williams, A. (2015). Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World Without Work
2 Frey, C.B., & Osborne, M. (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?