Tag: robots

Automation and Heteromation: The Future (and Present) of Labor

Editor’s note: This is a co-authored post by Bonnie Nardi and Hamid Ekbia. For the last several years, we have tried to understand how digital technology is changing labor. Of all the alleged causes of disruptions and changes in employment and work—immigrants, free trade, and technology—the last one has received the most extensive debate lately. We review the debate briefly and then discuss our research and how it bears on the questions the debate raises. (read more...)

Anthropos beyond the Human

In their thoughtful provocation, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie focus our attention on anthropos, and suggest that in transhumanists, anthropologists might find kindred spirits. Though our approaches and traditions may differ, we share “the same conceptual terrain.” Concerned as we all are about shifts in our ways of living and being in a “rapidly accelerating technological contemporary,” transhumanists and anthropologists may indeed have much to learn from each other about future forms of anthropos. But implied in their discussion is a convergence between “anthropos” and “human.” What is at stake in making this equation? Transhumanists and anthropologists alike are tuned into the future of the human, but we should also remember that futures are never very evenly distributed. My work has focused on figuring out the contours of a similar problem space. My main ethnographic study was on a network of researchers in Japan who make what they call ningen-chūshin gijutsu (人間中心技術), roughly “human-centered technology.” These take the forms of humanoid and non-humanoid robots, and various types of wearable technologies. Much of what they develop are interface technologies that operate on a variety of senses: vision, hearing, and touch, but also balance and proprioception. These researchers want to use such interfaces to make humans faster, more efficient, or more comfortable, or link them to machines to off-load repetitive tasks to free up a human for more demanding or interesting things. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | February 3rd, 2017

This week’s round-up brings us stories on climate change, robot overlords, copyright, and video games. As always, we also ask you to keep an eye out for interesting digital tidbits that we should include in next week’s round-up: you can send them, along with any hate mail, compliments, or cat pictures, to editor@castac.org. (read more...)

High-Tech Hand Work: When humans replace computers, what does it mean for jobs and for technological change?

[Editor’s Note: This post was revised on 1/28/2016 on Ben’s request. See his note below.] Author’s Note: Since its initial publication, I have reframed this post to more fully integrate the argument and data. This revised post reflects these changes. Recent years have brought a resurgence of interest in how the rapid evolution of computer technologies is affecting work. Some have examined how smart machines are replacing manual labor, swallowing up the manufacturing jobs that have driven the growth of China’s economy. Others reveal how algorithms are supplanting knowledge workers. “Big data” and “machine learning” techniques help software engineers create algorithms that make more accurate and less biased judgments than well-trained humans. Software is already doing the work of medical lab technicians and replicating higher-order cognitive functioning, such as detecting human emotions and facial expressions, processing language, and even writing news articles. Technology has long played a role in both eliminating certain types of work and creating new opportunities. Today’s debates often echo those of the past: technophiles believe that “disruption” is a source of social progress, whereas detractors worry that the coming waves of automation will deepen the insecurity and exploitation of workers. Both sides, however, often overlook the surprising ways in which, rather than creating “frictionless” economies, automation can in fact intensify the use of human labor. In the remainder of this piece, I compare an exemplary study of the industrial revolution of the 19th century with a case study from the front lines of the automation revolution that many believe is now underway. In the Victorian era, new machinery did not replace human workers, but in fact often expanded their use. The same was true at a tech startup that I observed, where artificial intelligence was combined with the routinized application of human labor. Both of these cases draw attention to the specific ways in which technology restructures labor markets not only by eliminating jobs, but also by creating new types of work that must keep pace with machinery. (read more...)

Popular (Mis)Conceptions & the Perpetual Rise of the Machines

In the opening scene of the recent NOVA documentary, Rise of the Drones, the narrator ominously tells us that a revolution is underway. “Are we” he leads, “approaching a time when movies like The Terminator become our reality?” A clip from the Terminator III, with two humans cowering in fear whispering, fades in and out, “Oh God. It’s the machines. They’re starting to take over…” The narrator continues, “a time when machines fly, think, and even kill on their own?” My dissertation research is focused on how technologies used in remote warfare are changing conceptions of warfare and experiences of agency within human-computer systems. These technologies include what the Air Force prefers to call RPAs, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, also known as UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and more commonly known as drones. While my fieldwork looks at individual experiences and institutional narratives within military communities, a larger backdrop of my research is (read more...)