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Will Automation Crash Democracy?

Around the world, technology is disrupting the workforce, with automation poised to displace humans in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and beyond. Will the rise of robots fuel a new wave of “us versus them” populism capable of undermining democracy?

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Overview

Around the world, technology is disrupting the workforce, with automation poised to displace humans in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and beyond. Will the rise of robots fuel a new wave of “us versus them” populism capable of undermining democracy? For some, the answer is yes. They argue that as people lose jobs to robots, the gap between the rich and poor widens, distrust in government and democratic institutions grows, and populist ideas become more attractive to those who feel left behind. The importance of work trumps the importance of democracy, leaving a clear path for authoritarians to rise under nationalist messages that pit groups of people against one another. But others paint a different picture: They argue that humans have adapted to – and benefited from – new innovations for centuries. From the advent of water and steam power to computers, work has changed, but never disappeared. And as automation drives higher productivity growth, humans can reach their full potential and pursue societal innovation, allowing more citizens to feel fulfilled and strengthening democracy on the whole. Arguing for the motion is Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group with Yascha Mounk, author of "The People vs. Democracy." Arguing against the motion is Andrew Keen, author of "Tomorrows Versus Yesterdays" with Alina Polyakova, the David M. Rubenstein fellow at Brookings Institution. John Donvan moderates. This conversation was taped on May 14, 2018.

FOR:
· The "us versus them" populism sweeping the Western world today is fueled by technological advancement: as low- and middle-skilled workers continue to lose jobs to automation, anger will manifest, leaving many concerned that democracy is no longer working in their favor.
· The promise of high-paying jobs won't have access to the training needed for the sophisticated jobs of the future. This will further widen wealth inequality and exacerbate the divide between globalization's winners and losers.
· Anti-democratic leaders promising to bring back jobs from immigrants and robots will continue to get elected over status quo candidates, further eroding democratic institutions and empowering the rise of authoritarian societies.

AGAINST:
· Automation won't mean the end of work, just as the advent of steam power, electricity, and computers didn't mean the end of work. Through regulation, taxation, and innovative solutions like UBI, society can adapt to new technologies and assuage populist discontents.
· While automation will displace some workers, this won't affect the total number of available jobs: as technology continues to advance, newer higher-paying jobs will evolve, employing more people and making the "us versus them" message less appealing.
· Robots and other technological advances could save the global economy. As the global population ages and birth rates decline, automation can help reshape the future of work, filling demographic-driven job vacancies and staving off a labor shortage that could lead to democratic instability.

About

John Donvan (Host and Moderator): The moderator of Intelligence Squared U.S. debates since 2008, John Donvan is an author and correspondent for ABC News. He has served as ABC’s White House Correspondent, along with postings in Moscow, London, Jerusalem, and Amman. John is the coauthor of In a Different Key: The Story of Autism (Crown, 2016). In addition to premiering his first one-man show, “Lose the Kid,” in 2013 in Washington, D.C., John is a four-time Emmy Award winner and was a National Magazine Award finalist in 2010.

Andrew Keen, named as one of the "100 Most Connected Men" by GQ magazine, is amongst the world's best-known commentators on the digital revolution. He directed and wrote the documentary “How To Fix Democracy” and is the host of the popular podcast "Keen On Capitalism.” He has written five books, including the bestselling "How To Fix The Future," and his most recent book, "Tomorrows Versus Yesterdays: Conversations in Defense of the Future."

By This Expert

Yascha Mounk (For the Motion) is an associate professor of Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University and a postdoctoral fellow at the German Marshall Fund. A columnist at Slate and the host of The Good Fight podcast, he is an expert on the rise of populism and the crisis of liberal democracy. He is also the author of “The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It.”

By This Expert

Ian Bremmer (For the Motion) is the president and founder of Eurasia Group, the leading global political risk research and consulting firm, and president of GZERO Media. He is the foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at Time magazine, where he writes about China, U.S. foreign policy, and geopolitics. Dubbed a “rising guru” in the field of political risk by the Economist, he is the author of the New York Times best-seller, “Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism,” which explores the consequences of globalism.

By This Expert

Alina Polyakova (Against the Motion) is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and an adjunct professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in European politics, far-right populism and nationalism, and Russian foreign policy. Polyakova's recent book, "The Dark Side of European Integration," examines the rise of far-right political parties in Western and Eastern Europe.

By This Expert

Debate: Will Automation Crash Democracy?

01: Debate: Will Automation Crash Democracy?

Around the world, technology is disrupting the workforce, with automation poised to displace humans in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and beyond. Will the rise of robots fuel a new wave of “us versus them” populism capable of undermining democracy?

96 min