Posthuman Labor

Kim Jaehee

Originally published in Superhumanity (2018) and e-flux

With the emergence of information technology and cybernetics, it became possible to see humans and machines within the same information conveyance and feedback control system. This, in turn, made it possible to both humanize machines and machinize humans, while opening up a discussion of the “posthuman.” “Posthumanization,” an evolutionary process founded upon the advancement of science and technology, evokes both anticipation and apprehension. While humans might largely welcome the utility and convenience of weak artificial intelligence, such as IBM’s Watson or Google’s AlphaGo, there is fear that superior nonhuman beings, such as strong artificial intelligence and artificial super-intelligence, will come to dominate humans. Similarly, while the transhumanization or cyborgization that removes disabilities and enhances physical and mental capabilities might be welcomed, the machinization of desire and thought and its subjection to computers that turn everything into data through algorithmic language is largely met with alarm and dread.

This apprehension of “posthumanization” is especially pronounced when it comes to the question of labor and the concept of alienation that surrounds it. The idea that humans would become simplistic tools or even completely useless after being replaced by machines seems to have struck a nerve in public discourse. But do machines actually cause alienation from labor? Or could this existential anxiety emanate from the way we view our relationship to machines and labor more widely? If machines can indeed replace human labor, does this not mean that humans would be able to engage in activities other than labor? The transition from a human society to a posthuman society demands a transformation not only in the relationship between humans and machines, but also in an understanding of labor itself.

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