In this thesis, I argue that a neo-Marxist critical theory perspective on self-driving cars shifts critical conversations from risks and benefits to concerns about the commodification of free time necessary for our human experience of autonomy. First, I outline that neo-Marxist perspective by charting the different types of power exercised by a capitalist in order to increase their surplus. I then analyze Karl Marx's conception of time in economic exchange to show that, under capitalism, power is exercised over labor through the commodification of workers' free time. I then introduced Michel Foucault's concept of biopower to transition to the commodification not only of labor but also of bodies. Then, I introduce contemporary German philosopher Byung-Chul Han's concept of psychopolitics as a neo-Marxist critique of the exercise of power over the psyche of individuals in order to increase their surplus. These philosophers' models shift commodification from labor to bodies to information. In the final section, I apply Han's contemporary critique of power dynamics to the case of self-driving cars (SDCs) to show that the technologies they represent may serve to perpetuate the negative implications of a constantly optimizing society: a continuation of commodification of the very conditions of labor. This analysis illuminates an overlooked possible negative implication of this emerging technology, as contemporary literature focuses heavily on the developer of the self-driving cars rather than the user and glosses over possible concerns of alienation of the workers' time itself. I argue that increases in "free time" proposed by the implementation of self-driving cars will inevitably be used for "auto"-exploitation, or, self-exploitation. This thesis will contribute to developing work on the effects self-driving cars have on their users, rather than emphasizing effects on society or our environments.
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
DuVall, Parker, ""Auto"-Exploitation: A Marxist Examination of Self-Driving Cars" (2023). Honors Undergraduate Theses. 1346.