John Naughton: The robots are definitely coming and will make the world a more unequal place | John Naughton

New studies show that the latest wave of automation will make the world’s poor poorer. But big tech will be even richer

So the robots are coming for our jobs, are they? Yawn. That’s such an old story. Goes back to Elizabeth I and the stocking frame, if my memory serves me right. Machines have been taking our jobs forever. But economists, despite their reputation as practitioners of the “dismal science”, have always been upbeat about that. Sure, machines destroy jobs, they say. But hey, the new industries that new technology enables create even more new jobs. Granted, there may be a bit of “disruption” between destruction and creation, but that’s just capitalist business as usual. Besides, it’s progress, innit?

We have now lived through what one might call Automation 1.0. The paradigmatic example is car manufacturing. Henry Ford’s production line metamorphosed into Toyota’s “lean machine” and thence to the point where few humans, if any, are visible on an assembly line. Once upon a time, the car industry employed hundreds of thousands of people. We called them blue-collar workers. Now it employs far fewer. The robots did indeed take their jobs. In some cases, those made redundant found other employment, but many didn’t. And sometimes their communities were devastated as a result. But GDP went up, nevertheless, so economists were happy.

One of the things we are learning about digital technology is that it has become an amplifier of inequality

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John Naughton: We Have Been Harmonised: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter – review

A remarkable analysis identifies ‘Mao 2.0’ as the west’s new cold war adversary

Kai Strittmatter is a German journalist who writes for Süddeutsche Zeitung and is currently based in Copenhagen. From 1997 until recently, he had been a foreign correspondent in Beijing. Prior to those postings, he had studied sinology and journalism in Munich, Xi’an and Taipei. So he knows China rather well. Having read his remarkable book, it’s reasonable to assume that he will not be passing through any Chinese airport in the foreseeable future. Doing so would not be good for his health, not to mention his freedom.

We Have Been Harmonised is the most accessible and best informed account we have had to date of China’s transition from what scholars such as Rebecca MacKinnon used to call “networked authoritarianism” to what is now a form of networked totalitarianism. The difference is not merely semantic. An authoritarian regime is relatively limited in its objectives: there may be elections, but they are generally carefully managed; individual freedoms are subordinate to the state; there is no constitutional accountability and no rule of law in any meaningful sense.

The more one reads, the more pressing one conclusion becomes: almost everything we thought we knew about China is wrong

Related: China wants us to forget the horrors of Tiananmen as it rewrites its history | Louisa Lim and Ilaria Maria Sala

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Of all the hills to die on, why on earth has Labour chosen Chris Williamson? | Marina Hyde

The party’s baffling decision to re-admit an MP accused of antisemitism comes as faith in the leadership is faltering

Purely in terms of story, I am confused by the stakes in the Labour leadership’s vision for the nation. If you tell me this is a transformative programme to uplift the many, then I expect the movie trailer voiceover to growl something like: “HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO DEFEND HUMANITY?” Instead, the tagline seems to be “HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO DEFEND CHRIS WILLIAMSON?”

If I might just borrow the argot of our pending prime minister for a minute, it really is incredible how much political capital Labour has spaffed on this guy. On Thursday, the previously suspended MP for Derby slithered back into Labour via a haunted mirror. Forgive me, via the decision of a three-person NEC panel that included perma-disgrace Keith Vaz, who judged Williamson’s long history of highly problematic statements wasn’t antisemitic.

Related: Labour must reverse the disastrous decision to readmit Chris Williamson | Michael Segalov

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