Sunday, September 15, 2013

Computers and the Control Revolution

Hello everyone. A couple days ago I found an article (link below) on a report which suggests that about 45% of US jobs could be replaced by computerized automation in the next two decades. Now this number seems high to me, although admittedly I have no expertise in the area to draw on, and I suspect similar reports have appeared since the dawn of the computer age, probably even before. The point remains, however, that our economy is somewhere in the process of upgrading to a more efficient, computerized economy. Since this involves a large degree of automation, I think it’s safe to say that some jobs will unfortunately be lost as computers perform more and more routine tasks that would typically be performed by a human.

While the idea behind this study may not be entirely new, I think it does offer a good opportunity to reflect on how this connects to what we are learning in class. Admittedly this is more of a topic for future weeks of the course, but hopefully everyone has or will read ahead this week in preparation for the first paper. Two areas which the authors believe will be hit first are transportation and minor administration, both of which are central to the idea of a control society as argued by Beniger in our readings. Modern transportation technologies required new methods of control, and one method of control which developed was the bureaucracy. I cannot think of a term that screams administration to me more than “bureaucracy”.

Now we have two aspects of the control revolution being replaced by, or perhaps integrating with, computers, a key part of both postindustrial and network societies. One could argue that this is a decline in control revolution behavior in the US, traditional transportation and administration by humans, in favor of a different type of society with computers, perhaps a network society. These terms are ambiguous enough that I think an argument such as that would be valid. I think an equally valid argument could be made to the opposite: by implementing computers in our transportation and administration systems, we will be exerting ever greater and more autonomous control over our social structures. In this case despite computers traditionally being a technology of one of our later areas of study, they are being used in a more “traditional” role of the control revolution.

How do you think computers (potentially) taking over human jobs relates to what we are learning in class? Just like everybody else on the internet, I’ll ask you to leave a comment below if you have anything to share on what I’ve said.

James Beniger, “The Control Revolution,” in Albert H. Teich, ed., Technology and the Future (1990).

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