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AI and the Capitalist Space-Economy

Authors: Luis Alvarez Leon*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Economic Geography, UAS / UAV
Keywords: AI, artificial intelligence, capitalism, automation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


At least since the Industrial Revolution, capitalism and automation have been deeply intertwined. The quest for efficiency and drive towards profit maximization inherent in capitalism have advanced (and benefited from) machines with increasingly autonomous capabilities. On a spatial register, this symbiosis has been central to capitalism’s geographic expansion and evolution. So too, has it allowed for complex social and spatial divisions of labor that incorporate humans and machines in diverse configurations, from various forms of complementarity to workforce training, to outright labor substitution. While automation has grown with global capitalism, its most salient impacts were attenuated in industries and occupations reliant on high degrees of social interaction as well as cognitive, symbolic, cultural, and affective labor. After four decades of AI Winter, however, the advancement of intelligent machines is affecting a wide range of human activities —including many previously considered ‘machine-proof’. This has fed predictions of the end of work via a widespread substitution of humans by machines. Yet, while much discussion focuses on extreme scenarios, we lack a nuanced conceptual schema to analyze the various sociospatial configurations resulting from the integration of AI into capitalist dynamics. This paper proposes such a conceptual schema, developed inductively from a range of AI applications across industries and domains. This schema then informs a discussion of the current and future ramifications AI for the transformation of the capitalist space-economy, as well as the various policy implications that this may entail throughout locations, scales, territories, and other key sites of geographic inquiry and mobilization.

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