The Italian philosopher Franco Berardi gave an impassioned talk at King's College (University of Western Ontario) in late March 2017. The venue was a conference entitled "New Italian Thought", which saw several important figures visiting from Italy. Excerpts from this address about the current and future state of the world is given here:
"I don't have a recipe for the future but I can read the present, and what is the present? The present is a that new force is emerging, and this force is the general intellect.
"Now let's think about the future - the future is the internet. This is what Marx says in the text; he did not use the word internet, but he used the words general intellect. The way he explains general intellect is clearly anticipating the possibility of a collaboration of people, intellectual workers in space and in time. He says at this point force of labour multiplied by the combined general intellect is such that the necessary kind of work is destined to decrease and decrease to a point to point where, he says, the amount of time would be enough for the production of what we need.
"The force of the general intellect, of the connection of technology and knowledge, are making possible a reduction of the necessary time for the reproduction of the world. Marx says this is communism. He said communism is not the future, it is the present. It is the tendency for the reduction of the necessary time of labour. In 1977 a part of the movement in the factories and in the universities started saying strange words like 'it's time to work just one hour a day.' or more sensibly, 'let's work less, so everybody will have a job.' "
Berardi next discusses a landmark speech entitled “An End to History” at the University of Berkeley by Mario Savio- the date was December 2, 1964. At the time Savio was a 21-year-old philosophy major. His speech has been described as a philosophical discussion of the nature of history and human agency. Here is an excerpt from his speech Berardi specifically refers to.
“And that -- that brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus -- and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it -- that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!”
Returning to the speech of Berardi in London, he divines the beginning of our current state of affairs in that speech from 1964:
"Among the levers, among the gears of the machine, what he is talking about? In that talk we see an extraordinary vision of the future. He understands that the problem is knowledge, the exploitation of knowledge but his political mind is unable to think in terms of information, so he speaks in terms of levers and factories like he was in a movie of Charlie Chaplin, but we are no more in “Modern Times” [the movie]. We are beyond that moment. In that beautiful speech of Mario Savio I see all the complexity of the history that we have been living in since the 60s and 70s, not only in Italy but everywhere. After 1977, the neo-liberal violence begins and the workers' movement is suddenly unable to face the new liberal values because the worker's movement says work is a value. In short, what should we do? We have to defend our job, but it is impossible because aliens are coming- all sorts of aliens, aliens from abroad, Mexico, northern Africa, and most particularly from the laboratories of Silicon Valley.
"Robots are the aliens of the future. How are we deal with them? If we think the problem is to defend the existing composition of labour the conclusion will be fascism. Now I must tell you the truth - we are too late. Now we are talking of past history, it's done: fascism is here to stay! How long, I don't know. Certainly we have to understand the energy of fascism now is such that the energy has to develop itself to the end, which may be apocalyptic. We see this in the rise of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage."
Farage is the English politician who had a friendly meeting with President Trump recently; it was largely his effort that led Great Britain to vote to leave the European Union.
The most important take-away line from Berardi's speech is this: "Technology may be the force for a new kind of enslavement." He ended his speech by returning to the ostensible subject of his talk, the happenings of 1977, especially in Italy.
Berardi sees 1977 as the year “in which the two conflicting but converging possibilities of technology and knowledge imply that for the first time we are able to see the kind of complexity we are dealing with; for the first time we have been able to understand the future possibility of liberation and also a new enslavement. For the most part I think we have followed the dark path, the fascist path. Rethinking 1977 may be a way to find a way out."
The threat of robots may be more real than you think. Stephen Hawking has already warned of the danger, and now the person who invented neural networks has joined in. Professor Peter Hinton at the University of Toronto has for decades pioneered the use of neural nets instead of programmable artificial intelligence as the way forward. His persistence has paid off, as traditional AI is now widely regarded as a dead end. But even he agrees limits must be placed on AI.
Hinton has signed a petition asking the United Nations to ban artifically intelligent lethal weapons. This cause is being advanced by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.
Speaking of such weapons, Hinton said "I think that's the scariest bit," in an interview with the Globe and Mail newspaper. "And that's not the distant future...That's now." Which is pretty much what Berardi was saying in his lecture.
photo of Dr. Berardi at King's College, by C. Cunningham
The Globe and Mail stoy was published April 8, 2017