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From cost disease to cost cure: Embracing expensive automation

Event Name From cost disease to cost cure: Embracing expensive automation
Start Date 12th Jul 2018 4:00pm
End Date 12th Jul 2018 5:30pm
Duration 1 hour and 30 minutes

Economists have long lamented the “cost disease” in services: their propensity to rise in price relative to products subject to the efficiencies of manufacturing.

Theorists of disruptive innovation have proposed to “cure” the cost disease by standardizing, automating, and even robotizing service-intensive sectors like healthcare, finance, and education. From massive open online courses to robotic companions for the elderly, these innovations aim to displace workers (or at least work) with mechanical imitations of human labour. At its limits, the laissez-faire disruptionist vision merges with the utopia of fully automated luxury communism, or the dystopia of E.M. Forster’s vision of administered humanity in “The Machine Stops.”

Forster’s vision - of productive machinery gradually breaking down and becoming more unreliable - is the most likely outcome of current trends toward automation in health and education, because they are largely driven by austerity, cost-cutting, and financialization. There are numerous ways that artificial intelligence and machine learning could improve the service sector, but that improvement will result in systems more costly than current ones.

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