Partially Automated Dystopias + Utopias (Call for Submissions)

Every new technology seems to promise both liberation from drudgery and new forms of economic and social control. The contradictions between dead labor (accumulated productive capital) and living labor (workers), between the forces and relations of production, have always been at the center of Marxism. The way these contradictions play out in the cultural realm is contingent and evolving. Karel Capek’s 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), was translated into dozens of languages, popularizing both the idea of the robot – and the idea of robot rebellion. Working-class audiences, at the time, tended to identify with Capek’s robots – who were not exactly mechanical automatons, but rather artificial persons of a sort. Within a few decades, however, the mechanical automaton “robot” replaced Capek’s artificial humans in popular consciousness. The mechanical robot was increasingly viewed as a threat; perhaps in response to the growth of unemployment by automation, the mechanical slaughters of the imperialist and world wars, and the alienation of post-war corporatism.

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