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The Lost 1949 Essay That Predicted The Computerized World We Live In

Illustration for article titled The Lost 1949 Essay That Predicted The Computerized World We Live In

In 1949, the New York Times commissioned mathematician Norbert Wiener to write an essay about the future "ultimate machine age." He wrote a fascinating look ahead at a world where computers take over many of the tasks then performed by humans. And then the Times asked for a rewrite. And another. And the essay... never appeared. Until now.


At last, the Times has corrected its grievous error and run a lengthy excerpt from Wiener's essay "The Machine Age," in which he forecasts the world we're living in with uncanny accuracy. Here's a snippet:

These new machines have a great capacity for upsetting the present basis of industry, and of reducing the economic value of the routine factory employee to a point at which he is not worth hiring at any price. If we combine our machine-potentials of a factory with the valuation of human beings on which our present factory system is based, we are in for an industrial revolution of unmitigated cruelty.

We must be willing to deal in facts rather than in fashionable ideologies if we wish to get through this period unharmed. Not even the brightest picture of an age in which man is the master, and in which we all have an excess of mechanical services will make up for the pains of transition, if we are not both humane and intelligent.

Finally the machines will do what we ask them to do and not what we ought to ask them to do.


Check out the rest over at the New York Times.

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And this is why I am a socialist: I believe that as robots do more and more of the work that people used to do, that instead of seeing the difference in pay between CEOs and normal workers increase, I would see everyone work fewer hours and have a higher standard of living.