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The occupational singularity: existential threat or existential crisis?



A summary of Pedro H. Albuquerque's provocation speech for the IEEE SA 2023 AuDIITA Workshop at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, developed with occupational scientist and philosopher Sophie Albuquerque.


The accelerating development and adoption of cognitive technologies create unprecedented challenges and opportunities to individuals and societies. Much attention is given to labor and economic disruptions, as economistic and managerialist perspectives have dominated the public debate since the Industrial Revolution. These perspectives may have served societies somewhat well in the past, but will lead us now to dangerous intellectual dead ends due to their blind spots.


As cognitive technologies advance, potentially at an ever-increasing pace, they will disrupt not just labor but the whole spectrum of human occupations, in hard to predict manners that will dwarf the disruptions of previous technological waves, and as advanced cognition has been until now the distinctive characteristic of humans when compared to machines and other biological entities. We call this unique historical event the occupational singularity. Differently from the technological singularity, which may speculatively create an existential threat to humans at some unknown future point in time (a black swan event), the occupational singularity has yet started, and continues to accelerate its pace (a white swan event).


We believe that the occupational singularity is creating not an existential threat but a human existential crisis, ridden with unparalleled challenges, and that the relatively new field of occupational science, combined with knowledge from cybernetics, offers an alternative and better adapted perspective on how to transform a moment of dangerous change into an opportunity for human flourishing.


Reference: P. H. Albuquerque & S. Albuquerque, Social implications of technological disruptions: A transdisciplinary cybernetics science and occupational science perspective, 2023 IEEE International Symposium on Ethics in Engineering, Science, and Technology (ETHICS), West Lafayette, IN, USA, 2023, pp. 1-5.

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