But more compelling is the argument: should we countenance a “work or starve” system? Where the rich can leave an unpleasant job and wait until a better one comes along, but the poor cannot? Where employers can offer abusive conditions and zero-hour contracts, safe in the knowledge that people will have no choice but to comply if they are to pay the rent and that the Jobcentre will assist in the coercion?

As we move towards human jobs being replaced by computers, we have two choices. We can decry technology, and attempt to generate make-work jobs to give people something — anything — to do. Or we can accept that there will inevitably be more people than useful jobs, that this is no tragedy, and abandon the urge to force people to fight for the diminishing pool of jobs.

Adam Bernard on an end to benefit fraud.

So one of my old jobs was cloud service automation, which is a fancy way of saying “moving IT infrastructure to the cloud”.

One of the biggest problems I had in that role was the fact that no-one actually knew what “the cloud” was.1 People think it’s virtualisation,2 and while cloud uses virtualization, cloud isn’t virtualisation in the same way a cake isn’t flour.

The thing that makes “The Cloud” The Cloud is automation. That is, if you go to AWS and launch an EC2 instance, there is no person who does anything like reviewing your application for a server, or building your server, or handing over login information for your server. It all happens via a complex process of backend automation; scripts and code that someone has put in place once, than can then be executed millions of times, whenever, wherever, nearly instantaneously.

This is what “The Cloud” is.

The reason IT people are so freakin’ terrible at recognising it is because, while IT people are good at technical systems, they tend to be really shitty at recognising the implications of those technical systems on people.3 And the people-centric implications of The Cloud?

It’s basically the redundancy of most of the traditional IT department.

Because, yes; automation takes skills and it takes people. It takes people to write the automation code in the first place, and people to maintain it, and people to integrate it into an existing IT environment. But the number of people it takes to do that? Much less than the number of people it takes to maintain traditional IT systems–even virtualized ones–particularly when you’re dealing with the public cloud. If a company of twenty IT staff is able to fire ten of them after transitioning from in-house IT to cloud hosted, then it does not represent ten new jobs needed by the cloud vendors. It might represent some new jobs, particularly if that one company turns into a hundred turns into a thousand, but the net result is still that the number of IT jobs is declining as the requirement for warm bodies is better filled by robots, albeit virtual ones.4

It happened in manufacturing, it’s happening in tech. It’ll happen in other sectors, too, particularly as AIs and machine learning get more and more advanced. (What happens to the engineers when the robots can build and maintain themselves?)

We are, in other words, on the cusp of that sci-fi dream of a future of no work. Or, at least, a future where the job market has radically shifted. This is where we get back to the quote above, because I think we can’t get to this future–at least, not in a way that makes sense–without giving up the cultural idea of perpetual employment. Which means giving up the idea of capitalism, or at least consumerism.

This is the point where I mention I’m not an anti-capitalist and I have a familial loathing of Marxism and its more aggressive descendants.5 I’m also no social policy expert, so have no idea what this Magical Robot Future will look like. Only that it’s coming. And we probably won’t even notice until it’s here.

  1. It’s not uncommon in IT departments, for example, to see a server room or lab to whose door someone has taped a facetious “THE CLOUD” sign. []
  2. Tl;dr, running multiple virtual “computers” on one piece of physical hardware. Try it yourself at home! You can run Linux and use it to hide your porn collection! Or get started at hacking with Kali and the standard hacker uniform. Or carry around a computer on a thumb drive! Or a whole bunch of other random nerdy shit. IDK whatever you want to do, really. []
  3. Which is how we get HTTPS. No, I’m never letting that one go. []
  4. Sort of. It’s not quite that simple in manufacturing and it’s not quite that simple in IT, either, particularly in the long term. But in the short term, it still means a bunch of people will be out of work with skills that are now redundant. []
  5. And their bourgeois middle-class advocates. Pretty much my entire family on one side was put to death in Soviet work camps, so basically fuck you and your university-level anarcho-communist hippie bullshit. []