Scotland could face “dystopian” future, charities warn

Scotland

2035 could see a newly independent Scotland struggle with a heroin crisis, social unrest and economic turmoil following a mass cyber attack

26th July 2019 by Gareth Jones 2 Comments

Two charities have warned that Scotland could face a “dystopian” future.

2035 could see a newly independent Scotland struggle with a heroin crisis, social unrest and economic turmoil following a mass cyber attack; constant workplace monitoring, where your five-star rating determines your entire social worth; Alexa acquiring human levels of cognisance; and the draining emotional effect of an empathy-based economy, in the bleak visions set-out in a leading new short story collection. 

Inspired by the success of TV series such as Years and Years and Black Mirror, the free RSA and Orwell Foundation collection is designed to raise public awareness of the bleak future of work we could face: not just in terms of replacing workers with robots, but the multiple ways in which new tech could transform society and work. 

The RSA and the Orwell Foundation warn though “the future is in our hands” and we have time to avoid a dystopian nightmare through greater worker rights over tech.

The stories are each based on a model of 2035 predicted in the RSA’s Four Futures of Work report. Having read the report, the writers were given full creative license to imagine a 2035 ‘day in the life’ in each of the four scenarios:

•             Payment Not Accepted: in this story, leading Scottish author, campaigner and former Orwell Prize winner Darren McGarvey depicts a nightmare scenario in New Glasgow following a cyber attack. 

•             In Henri’s Story, Delia Jarrett-Macauley explores a future where empathy has become a commodity. 

•             The Joy Hive sees Stephen Armstrong’s detective scramble to make an arrest while his performance rating plummets.

•             And in I CLICK SUBMIT, Preti Taneja takes us on a linguistic journey through the exodus economy where the boundary between human and AI-augmented Alexa is increasingly blurred.

The RSA’s Four Futures of Work study, based on “morphological analysis” modelling various trends including the extent of technological development, automation and global stability, predicted four potential scenarios for 2035:

•             The Precision Economy portrays a future of hyper-surveillance. Technological progress has been moderate, but a proliferation of sensors allows firms to create value by capturing and analysing more information on objects, people and the environment. Gig platforms take on more prominence and rating systems become pervasive in the workplace. While some lament these trends as invasive, others believe they have ushered in a more meritocratic society. 

•             The Big Tech Economy describes a world where most technologies developed at a rapid pace, from self-driving cars to 3D printing. A new machine age is delivering significant improvements in the quality of products and public services, but unemployment and economic insecurity creep upwards, and the spoils of growth are offshored and concentrated in a handful of US and Chinese tech behemoths. 

•             The Exodus Economy is characterised by an economic slowdown. A crash on the scale of 2008 dries up funding for innovation and keeps the UK in a low-skilled, low-productivity and low-paid rut. Faced with another bout of austerity, workers lose faith in the ability of capitalism to improve their lives, and alternative economic models gather interest. 

•             The Empathy Economy envisages a future of responsible stewardship. Automation takes places at a modest scale but is carefully managed in partnership with workers and unions. Disposable income flows into ‘empathy sectors’ like education, care and entertainment. This trend is broadly welcomed but brings with it a new challenge of emotional labour, where the need to be continuously expressive and available takes its toll. 

It also revealed widespread ignorance about the impact of tech on workers from MPs. A survey of MPs by YouGov for the report found just 15% of MPs think parliamentarians are doing enough to prepare workers for new technologies, while 14% think the same of civil servants. More MPs disagree than agree that they know enough about new technologies to make the right judgement calls on technology policy (43% to 29%). 

Asheem Singh, editor of the collection and director of economy at the RSA, said: “The future of work is coming at us - fast. Gig work, automation, AI: all augur massive shifts. These stories, written by award-winning authors Darren McGarvey – his first published fiction piece I believe – Delia Jarrett-Macauley, Stephen Armstrong and Preti Taneja present the dark side of those futures. They are not statistics or ideologies – but alternative, very real shadow-worlds that lie in wait for the workers of today and tomorrow if we don't act now. We must ensure the voice of workers are heard, that our rights are buttressed and augmented and that our economic model favours ordinary people once more if we are to realise a less dystopian future.” 

Professor Jean Seaton, director of The Orwell Foundation, said: "We live in an age of alarm, so thinking imaginatively about the anxiety around technology, surveillance and work is a way to shape our fears. This is what Orwell did: warn so that we acted. The Orwell Foundation has very much enjoyed working with these four exceptional writers and the RSA to give you, the reader, a feast of new stories."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, author of the government’s good work review and the interim director for labour market enforcement, said: “Facts about the changing world of work only goes so far – we need compelling stories and visions too.   

“We are familiar with the narrative of robots taking jobs, but far more realistic is the Orwell vision of ever-increasing workplace surveillance. Indeed RSA research shows workplace spying worries workers more than their idea of their employer outsourcing their job to a robot. 

“Good work liberates us from the vision of control set out in 1984. Bad work in the age of autonomy could mean tech enabling Big Brother style worker monitoring. Government policy matters, but we also need greater public understanding of the impact of automation, scrutiny of trends from the media and campaign groups, and action from employers to safeguard workers’ rights.  

“This collection of stories represents possible futures, but the point is that the future is in our hands. Orwell’s vision helped raise awareness of the forward march to totalitarianism in the UK. This collection does the same in reaction to some of the risks of technological change and I hope inspires important conversations about the future.”  

Darren McGarvey, author of Payment Not Accepted and winner of the 2018 Orwell Prize for Non-Fiction, said: "My story is an attempt to capture a possible convergence of the current political and tech trends. The social impact of isolation and disassociattion from other and our environments. The ubiquity of constitutional politics. A few years ago, today's situation would have seemed dystopian if hypothesised. I reckon my short story barely scratches the surface of what's on the cards for us if we dont get a grip.”

26th July 2019 by maxxmacc

Who wrote this guff, Boris Johnson?

29th July 2019 by ROBERT MCINTOSH

Autumn 2019 sees an enslaved Scotland impoverished, raped and pillaged by an arrogant, fascist, rabbid 'little englander' dictatorship would be more likely!