Value extraction from human beings

The most common way to extract value from human beings has always been labor, whether in the form of slavery or waged labor. Under this first value extraction form, it was possible to be or to have, soldiers, priests, farmers, masons, prostitutes, etc.

Consumer capitalism found out that it is possible to extract value not only from man’s production but also from his consumption. Fordism was able to develop a new business model being aware that in the end, if mass society requires mass production it also needs mass consumption.

Surveillance capitalism (Zuboff), affirms a new way to extract value from humans. The wastes of communication and interaction between users, make possible to capture information that can be transformed and sold. The famous sentence by Andrew Lewis: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”, according to Zuboff, is incorrect. In the interaction with the internet, the user is not the product, but the raw material, the behavioral surplus.

At first, the information extracted was used to offer the user a better service but soon it took the shape of behavioral surplus and it started to be sold to third-party customers.

The extracted user loses all rights to that information and has no power as raw material, nor as producer, or a product. Only those who take the information without asking permission and transform it, have rights as producers, and those who pay for it, have rights as customers. What is at stake is the whole private universe of a man. The marketization of private life makes the anthropological kingdom of the ‘self’ just a market of life fragments to be sold as raw material, and misrepresent the anthropological destruction of a free man with the loss of customer rights.

In our fast-changing era, men have a different balance of value as raw material, product, producer and consumer. The way in which you can extract value from a man coincides roughly with the traditional class differences.

The defense of men from the violent extraction of value by other men is the skeleton of human history. However, the next revolution of value-extraction could change the rules of the game.

As Harari says, in the future man could fight not against his own exploitation but against the impossibility of being exploited. In other words, man would run the risk of no longer having any value.

If humans are going to be no more the most important form of life, because in terms of intelligence and production capacity, artificial intelligence could overcome them if the political, social, and economic choices will be made by artificial intelligence, what would it be the value of human beings? or rather what value could still be possible to extract from human beings?

Human beings will have no production value because machines will produce more and better than them.

In terms of consumption, humans may no longer have value as well. First, because the curve of satisfaction of needs tends to get flatted, secondly because, in a society where machines have more possibilities to produce and create profits, sooner or later, they will end up being the recipient of most of the consumption.

Also as a product, man would end up having little attraction. What a machine would possibly need from a man that cannot have from another machine faster and cheaper?

There would remain the role it plays today in surveillance capitalism, that of raw material for the creation of behavioral surplus. Even that position would be in danger. If the machine will be the largest producer, the biggest consumer, and the most important product, humans would have no importance even as an object for the extraction of information. Such information would be extracted from the activities and capabilities of the machines.

The transition from the condition of priceless to that of a very expensive but useless object will be troubled. Sooner or later the laws of the market will align the price of humans with their utility, making them cheap if not completely valueless.

The transition from priceless to valueless will be very painful and will involve unthinkable historical earthquakes.

The ruthless beauty is that even if humans can predict this unfortunate future, and even predict it with certainty, they are unable to prevent it.

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