Digital work and automation link dump

Ok. Whilst I was not blogging I kept finding things through twitter and reading blogs that I find interesting. I kept thinking “oh, I ought to write something about that”… the thing is, I haven’t had the time and I don’t have the time now. So… I’m going to do a sort of annotated link thingamajig so that I don’t lose these things (I have over 45 tabs open in Chrome on my phone, this is unworkable) and also to share and to maybe invite other people to comment on this stuff..?!

The future of work, a history by Kevin Baker – A relatively long piece of writing that charts a history of American worrying about the replacement of the human worker with machines. Some interesting historical details that help contextualise some of the alarmism today. What I like about this is that the piece ends by reminding us all that there are choices to be made, which are political, but it also highlights how inescapable forms of determinism are (as Sally Wyatt so expertly tells us).

Tech culture, unions and the blind spot of meritocracy by Wendy Liu in Technology and The Worker (#2) –an interesting piece by Wendy Liu that documents a conversation with Xavier Denis a former engineer at Shopify about what working in the US tech. market is like – the sorts of working conditions, norms and management practices.

Automation, skills use and training by Ljubica Nedelkoska and Glenda Quintin (OECD) — A report that builds upon and that authors claim improves assessments of the potential for the automation of particular kinds of work. “Beyond the share of jobs likely to be significantly disrupted by automation of production and services, the accent is put on characteristics of these jobs and the characteristics of the workers who hold them.” This contributes to the ongoing arguments around the likelihood or not of job/role/work automation.

What can machine learning do? Workforce implications by Erik Brynjolfsson (MIT) and Tom Mitchell (Carnegie Mellon) in Science – A short-ish “Insights” article that makes some fairly grandiose and sweeping claims about the ‘impacts’ of automation on the workforce (with an American focus). Some references are made but if you follow them up it seems to me that the statements they are used to support make fairly big leaps. This, in contrast to the OECD report, is a stoking of the now brightly burning fire of the imaginings of automation.

The Guardian view on automation: put human needs first – A Grauniad editorial that passes comment on the above OECD report. It’s interesting to see the reception, interpretation and sometimes misrepresentation (I don’t think that’s what the Graun are doing here) of these academic economic reports. This plays into the general, normative, discussions and senses of the risks and/or realities of automation (this is a part of what I want write a book about).


BBC Click offer a Twitter-length version of ‘what it’s like to work with robots’.

Dr Easy.

Shynola re-imagine/visualise the opening section of Matthew De Abaitua’s novel Red Men – a PKD-like imaginative exploration of the emergence of AI.

The Incomplete Vision of John Perry Barlow by April Glaser (Slate) – Reflecting upon Barlow’s “Declaration of the independence of cyberspace” and the rise of EFF following his death earlier this year. Fits nicely with Fred Turner’s work examining the hippy-libertarian nexus of Silicon Valley moguls. In many ways this gets at some of the ideological foundations and/or misgivings of automation talk.

Face Recognition Glasses Augment China’s Railway Cops by Bibek Bhandari (SixthTone) – An article about the alleged deployment of facial recognition through AR glasses for Chinese police. Predictable comparisons to “Black Mirror” and other forms of dystopianism.

The Ethics Advisory Group of the European Data Protection Supervisor Report on Data Ethics (2018) [PDF] – On the back of the GDPR and contemporary debates around privacy in light of perennial controversies with Facebook and others the Ethics Advisory Group published a report claiming that: “The objective of this report is thus not to generate definitive answers, nor to articulate new norms for present and future digital societies but to identify and describe the most crucial questions for the urgent conversation to come.” The report is written by J. Peter Burgess, Luciano Floridi, Aurélie Pols and Jeroen van de Hoven.

The network Uber drivers built by Alex Rosenblat – an article that addresses some of the ways that Uber drivers have collectively organised in order to manage working with a quasi-automated system in which the policies are not necessaerily in the best interests of the worker.

Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy (Report of Strategic Council for AI Technology) ( a Japanese government report) [PDF] – A 25 page report written for the Japanese government. It’s fairly dry and dense and has some crazy Powerpoint-style diagrams but it is sort of interesting as a documenting of an apparently strategic governmental approach to “AI”.

Why the Luddites matter : Librarian Shipwreck – A good blogpost on who the Luddites really were and framing them as an interesting means of getting at how popular understandings of technology might be found wanting.

Sci-Fi doesn’t have to be depressing: welcome to Solar Punk by Tom Cassauwers – What if we don’t write dystopian science fiction but build imaginary worlds based on positive and affirmative uses of technology? That is the premise of what is called ‘Solar Punk’, as outlined here by Tom Cassauwers – who charts the movement with Sarena Ulibarri, an editor who is a key proponent of the sub-genre.

Our driverless future on CNN Money – a video feature on driverless cars with four episodes and a couple of additional videos. There’s some interesting interviews and it’s not all boosterism. It’s sort of emblematic of the current discourse on automation. If nothing else this is probably useful for teaching purposes as there are some clips that nicely sum up some of the key questions being asked.

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