Salaried ‘bonsai’ caught in the AI trap

What remains of the May Day spirit other than the public holiday observed on 1 May? Most of the employers have no interest in limiting the working hours within eight, no matter what is written on paper. Whether the working class people should be given just wages or, to coin it modestly, a decent salary, is no more a matter of universal rights.

The term ‘working class’ denotes workers who make a living by means of manual labour. They work in sweat factories like readymade garment industry and informal business sectors. A media report on the demand for living wages seems to be a subject that is limited to the discussion on pay packages meant for those working class people.

A Google search may not offer you the most suitable answer to why labourers demonstrated in Chicago on 1 May 1886. Yes, the policymakers have to talk a bit about workers’ welfare but the middle class has been obsessed with attractive white collar jobs. So, joining top positions of large local companies and reputed multinational corporations, apart from the civil service, has become the only aim in life for many.

In fact, educated people around the world have been looking for salvation in securing gentlemen’s jobs making this a trend for decades. They thought a bright career with lucrative salary and other benefits is taken for granted over there. Such jobs in the private sector have increased significantly in our country as well in the past three decades or so although most people concerned have hardly noticed that the country has no strong legal framework for the white collar job holders. Moreover, these jobs stagnated or salaries and benefits were slashed worldwide in recent years.

Anxious about lifestyle challenges and future of their children, these helpless ‘highly paid’ workers are still not in a position to come out of the unhealthy competition of the corporate jobs, even if they want. In many cases, they are resigned to the whims of the boss or the organisation. Running after o’clock from the morning till the late evening for saving jobs, they are turning into modern-day slaves and trying to make their subordinates captive workers. These are the people who are being asked to show creativity in performance matching the genius of Albert Einstein and with loyalty of an ass.

Their mental height is like bonsai, a plant kept shortened with Japanese techniques, and their world like its vessel. The owners of the organisations they serve and their superiors are dominantly present almost always in their thinking and conversations. The great objectives of services of these gentlemen attired with suit and tie, other than the compulsions of earning bread and butter, remain undefined. Once they leave the organisation, rarely are any good words heard about their relationship with the colleagues.

Some of them want to become entrepreneurs out of fatigue of the jobs or in the pursuit of corporate ambition, and some have been successful too in the recent past. Some of those who have transformed into entrepreneurs from jobholders eventually proved as employers that they have been indoctrinated with the lessons of their former employers. For instance, by competitive pay package, they understand taking services from someone paying salary as low as possible and cost cutting means cutting jobs of a good number of people. S/he nurtures the devastating ego of the ex-boss whom s/he hated most until recently. There is scarcely any human face there.

In today’s digital world, the profit mongers wish, let the thing called artificial intelligence solve all their business problems. That is, in a nutshell, accomplishment of jobs only issuing an order that requires intelligence by giving software inputs to computer or computer-like machine. It may encompass production of millions of pieces of certain products, recordkeeping, accounting, examining information and data for research and crafting an essay.

In such a situation, they believe, they would be able to get rid of hassles of handling human resources, increase productivity in factories without much investment, stop wasting time as part of systems loss for resting and become wealthy within a short span of time.

The rich have become wealthier in the meantime, taking advantage of dominance of technology they have captured and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. International Monetary Fund has warned that the artificial intelligence could widen the gap between the rich and the poor nations. If major portion of the money is grabbed by only one section of the society, who would then buy the products and services that this class wants to sell? If the capitalist system, spearheaded by the United States, faces a serious crisis, its severe spillover effects on the global supply chain are known to the Americans and others.

The educated people who were brought up in an independent Bangladesh and imbued with the democratic spirit were not expected to be mean-minded men and women devoid of moral backbone

In case, the current system, surviving chiefly on greed and corporate hegemony, collapses, the capitalist forces would look to their preferred system of government for contingency support. Immediately after the 2008 financial meltdown, as we saw, the US corporations had taken advantage of the bailout packages. The ones responsible for the crisis might think why they should miss the opportunity to repair their damage with taxpayers’ money!

In the Bangladesh context, what can rescue or further enrich this rich class is the bank loan – who can compel them to pay it back? What if they could follow the culture of tax evasion? In this kind of crony capitalism, the clever employees of the rich men might assume the possession and use of advanced technologies would give them edge to dominate others in society for a longer period of time. They would just need to maintain hobnob with powerful political leadership and regulatory authorities.

The problem, however, is that all concerned are well-aware of these strategies. In the rule of technology coupled with the prowess of money, the jobholder servants have lost their common sense, where they are considered educated leaders, not the labour forces living on manual labour. It is they who were supposed to rule the artificial intelligence by using their creative intellect. Instead, they are failing to understand who they are in the production process and current social setting, let alone foreseeing the future.

The educated people who were brought up in an independent Bangladesh and imbued with the democratic spirit were not expected to be mean-minded men and women devoid of moral backbone. Those who have already been placed in leadership positions should have been more conversant with details of the movements for independence and public rights. Equality, human dignity and social justice were the three main components of the proclamation of independence in 1971. Have you ever given a thought how your own rights would be realised, should the pledges of the state be sacrificed for parochial personal interests.

That’s why, today’s youth must know the expectation of the owners of the purchased robots: The dwarfed men would continue indefinitely to implement the whims and sweet wills of the masters, that are clichéd commands that artificial intelligence repeats over and over and again. They fancy they would only accept the behaviour of robots, so that the living jobholders with genuine intelligence never make arguments about their monotonous authority.

But who knows what the thinking, active people like that of Rene Descarstes’ ‘I think, therefore I am’ would think in future? Those who have found their latest guru in a stupid machine exclusive of diverse human merit, continue to prove every day that they are the real slaves of artificial intelligence.


Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist

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