In 25 Years, Your Employer Will Directly Control Your Moods

[Edit Oct. 28: After discussion with friends and commenters in social media, I now think that the thesis should be moderated in two ways. First, before direct mood control becomes common in the workplace, it probably first needs to become voluntarily common at home; and thus it will probably take more than 25 years. Second, it seems likely that in many (most?) cases the direct control will remain in the employee's hands, though there will likely be coercive pressure from the employer to use it as the employer expects. (Thanks to everyone for their comments!)]

Here's the argument:

(1.) In 25 years, employers will have the technological capacity to directly control their employees' moods.

(2.) Employers will not refrain from exercising that capacity.

(3.) Most working-age adults will be employees.

(4.) Therefore, in 25 years, most working-age adults will have employers who directly control their moods.

The argument is valid in the sense that the conclusion (4) follows if all of the premises are true.

Premise 1 seems plausible, given current technological trajectories. Control could be either pharmacological or via direct brain stimulation. Pharmacological control could, for example, be through pills that directly influence your mood, energy levels, ability to concentrate, feeling of submissiveness, or passion for the type of task at hand. Direct brain stimulation could be through a removable TMS helmet that magnetically stimulates and suppresses neural activity in different brain regions, or with some more invasive technology. McDonald's might ask its cashiers to tweak their dials toward perky friendliness. Data entry centers might ask their temp workers to tweak their dials toward undistractable focus. Brothels might ask their strippers to tweak their dials toward sexual arousal.

Contra Premise 1, society might collapse, of course, or technological growth could stall or proceed much more slowly. If it's just slower, then we can replace "25 years" with 50 or 100 and retain the rest of the argument. It seems unlikely that moods are too complex or finicky to be subject to fairly precise technological control, given how readily they can be influenced by low-tech means.

I don't know to what extent people in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and elite universities already use high-tech drugs to enhance alertness, energy, and concentration at work. That might already be a step down this road. Indeed, coffee might partly be seen this way too, especially if you use it to give your all to work, and then collapse in exhaustion when the caffeine wears off and you arrive home. My thought is that in a few decades the interventions might be much more direct, effective, and precisely targeted.

Premise 2 also seems plausible, given the relative social power of employers vs. employees. As long as there's surplus labor and a scarcity of desirable jobs, then employers will have some choice about whom to hire. If Starbucks has a choice between Applicant A who is willing to turn up the perky-friendly dial and otherwise similar Applicant B who is not so willing, then they will presumably tend to prefer Applicant A. If the Silicon Valley startup wants an employee who will crank out intense 16-hour days one after the next, and the technology is available for people to do so by directly regulating their moods, energy levels, focus, and passion, then the people who take that direct control, for their employers' benefit, will tend to win the competition for positions. If Stanford wants to hire the medical researcher who is publishing article after article, they'll find the researcher who dialed up her appetite for work and dialed down everything else.

Employees might yield control directly to the employer: The TMS dials might be in the boss's office, or the cafeteria lunch might include the pharmacological cocktail of the day. Alternatively, employees might keep the hand on the dial themselves, but experience substantial pressure to manipulate it in the directions expected by the employer. If that pressure is high enough and effective enough, then it comes to much the same thing. (My guess is that lower-prestige occupations (the majority) would yield control directly to the employer, while higher-prestige occupations would retain the sheen of self-control alongside very effective pressure to use that "self-control" in certain ways.)

Contra Premise 2, (a.) collective bargaining might prevent employers from successfully demanding direct mood control; or (b.) governmental regulations might do so; or (c.) there might be a lack of surplus labor.

Rebuttal to (a): The historical trend recently, at least in the U.S., has been against unionization and collective bargaining, though I guess that could change.

Rebuttal to (b): Although government regulations could forbid certain drugs or brain technologies, if there's enough demand for those drugs or technologies, employees will find ways to use them (unless enforcement gets a lot of resources, as in professional sports). Government regulations could specifically forbid employers from requiring that their employees use certain technologies, while permitting such technologies for private use. (No TMS helmets on the job.) But enforcement might again be difficult; and private use vs. use as an employee is a permeable line for the increasing number of jobs that involve working outside of a set time and location. Also, it's easier to regulate a contractual demand than an informal de facto demand. Presumably many companies could say that of course they don't require their employees to use such technologies. It's up to the employee! But if the technology delivers as promised, the employees who "voluntarily choose" to have their moods directly regulated will be more productive and otherwise behave as the company desires, and thus be more attractive to retain and promote.

Rebuttal to (c): At present there's no general long-term trend toward a shortage of labor; and at least for jobs seen as highly desirable, there will always be more applicants than available positions.

Premise 3 also seems plausible, especially on a liberal definition of "employee". Most working-age adults (in Europe and North America) are currently employees of one form or another. That could change substantially with the "gig economy" and more independent contracting, but not necessarily in a way that takes the sting out of the main argument. Even if an Uber driver is technically not an employee, the pressures toward direct mood control for productivity ought to be similar. Likewise for computer programmers and others who do piecework as independent contractors. If anything, the pressures may be higher, with less security of income and fewer formal workplace regulations.

Thinking about Premises 1-3, I find myself drawn to the conclusion that my children's and grandchildren's employers are likely to have a huge amount of coercive control over their moods and passions.



"What Would (or Should) You Do with Administrator Access to Your Mind?" (guest post by Henry Shevlin, Aug 16, 2017).

"Crash Space" (a short story by R. Scott Bakker for Midwest Studies in Philosophy).

"My Daughter's Rented Eyes" (Oct 11, 2016).

[image source: lady-traveler, creative commons]

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