Seminar 26: AI and the Leisure Society (2.0)

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AI and the Leisure Society (2.0)

Professor Neil Carr, Department of Tourism, 13th April 2018.

The idea of the leisure society (1.0) can be traced back to the work of Dumazedier in the late 1960s. It was borne out of the era of automation of the workplace in the post-Second World War era. The theory was that people would no longer need to work, as opposed to not being able to work due to a lack of employment opportunities. This automation would give people not just the time but also the resources they needed in order to engage in a life of leisure, or at least so the theory went. By the 1990s, it was clear that the leisure society had not arrived and it appeared unlikely to ever do so as people’s working weeks continued to expand and those left unemployed by shifting industry needs were faced with the reality of significant amounts of free time but a lack of resources to utilise it for leisure purposes.

Good, or at least apparently good, ideas are, however, hard to kill and with the current rise of artificial intelligence in the workplace a new era of automation is upon us and talk is turning once again to the threat of machines to the continuation of people in the workplace. Alongside this, questions are once again being raised about what people may do with all the free time that an AI driven/dominated workplace and whether we may yet see the emergence of a Shangri-La like leisure society.

Beginning by defining leisure, this paper explores the potential for the emergence of a leisure society in the face of growing AI within the workplace and what such a society could look like. It is argued that leisure as a mass consumer activity can never be a stable foundation for a leisure society. While the idea of leisure as a search for self may provide such a foundation, whether it is sufficiently appealing to the majority of people is highly debatable.