The Last Human Job: The Work of Connecting in a Disconnected World

Princeton Univ. Jun. 2024. 376p. ISBN 9780691240817. $29.95. SOC SCI
For this book on labor and automation, sociologist Pugh (chair of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, Univ. of Virginia; The Tumbleweed Society) conducted hundreds of interviews with professionals in connective labor fields—doctors, nurses, chaplains, health aides, teachers, therapists, hairdressers—to understand how automation and artificial intelligence are changing their work. For instance, health professionals deal with electronic records and the profit-driven shrinking of time allotted to each patient. Therapists face time constraints too and must see more and more patients in shorter sessions, while schools turn to virtual classes that relegate in-person teachers to facilitating roles. Chaplains must keep extensive electronic records of their interactions too. Pugh posits that capitalism, which tries to wring more productivity out of these practitioners, is to blame. When people become unable to do increased workloads well, automation is often suggested. Pugh asserts that there’s a real threat that automation and AI will take over, to the detriment of these workers and the people they care for. The future, she notes, may be one in which those with wealth will receive personal care from humans, whereas those without money will get less-satisfactory automated attention.
VERDICT Highly recommended for readers in connective labor professions.
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