The Tragedy of the Master: Automation, Vulnerability, and Distance
Responding to long-standing warnings that robots and AI will enslave humans, I argue that the main problem we face is not that automation might turn us into slaves but, rather, that we remain masters. First I construct an argument concerning what I call ‘the tragedy of the master’: using the master–slave dialectic, I argue that automation technologies threaten to make us vulnerable, alienated, and automated masters. I elaborate the implications for power, knowledge, and experience. Then I critically discuss and question this argument but also the very thinking in terms of masters and slaves, which fuels both arguments. I question the discourse about slavery and object to the assumptions made about human–technology relations. However, I also show that the discussion about masters and slaves attends us to issues with human–human relations, in particular to the social consequences of automation such as power issues and the problem of the relation between automation and (un)employment. Finally, I reflect on how we can respond to our predicament, to ‘the tragedy of the master’.
Citation : Coeckelbergh, M. (2015) The Tragedy of the Master: Automation, Vulnerability, and Distance. Ethics and Information Technology, 17 (3), pp. 219-229
Research Group : Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility
Research Institute : Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR)
Peer Reviewed : Yes