Special Issue "Socio-technical Dimensions of Automation of Work - Future Visions Matter"

A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 December 2021) | Viewed by 9973

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. António B. Moniz
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Guest Editor
1. Observatory of Technology Assessment, CICS.NOVA, Campus Campolide, 1070-312 Lisboa, Portugal
2. Faculty of Sciences and Technology, University Nova Lisbon, Campus Caparica, 2829-516 Caparica, Portugal
Interests: sociology of technology; human-robot interaction; sociology of work; social implications of automation
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Dr. Bettina-Johanna Krings
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 76021 Karlsruhe, Germany
Interests: sociology of work; human-machine-interaction; technology assessment; critical theory
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Oriol Homs
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Guest Editor
Notus: Applied Social Research, Barcelona 16, 08003, Spain
Interests: training; employment
Prof. Dr. Ilona Bučiūnienė
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Guest Editor
ISM, University of Management and Economics, Vilnius LT-01305, Lithuania
Interests: human resource management; responsible HRM and leadership; HRM- employee attitudes (performance linkage in business, public and health care sectors)
Prof. Dr. Csaba Makó
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute of the Information Society, University of Public Service, Budapest 1083, Hungary
Interests: work organisation; knowledge society; social risks; higher education

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Modern automation technologies such as numerically-controlled (NC) machine-tools, intelligent sensors, auto-guided vehicles, collaborative robotic systems etc. will not only change the socio-technical environments of production in “traditional” sectors such as agriculture, mining, production and logistics. Future visions of advanced technological approaches that use artificial intelligence (AI) are foreseen to be introduced in different societal sectors such as medicine and health care or even in education. Here, according to numerous political and scientific programs, AI should not only deeply change the modes of “productivity” but also the modes of communication interrelation and the performing of tasks by the strong adaptation of human–machine interaction (HMI) into complex working environments (work can be defined as labor: “Labor is the amount of physical, mental, and social effort used to produce goods and services in an economy. It supplies the expertise, manpower, and service needed to turn raw materials into finished products and services. In return, laborers receive a wage to buy the goods and services they don't produce themselves. Those without desired skills or abilities often don't even get paid a living wage. Many countries have a minimum wage to make sure their workers earn enough to cover the costs of living” (https://www.thebalance.com/labor-definition-types-and-how-it-affects-the-economy-3305859, 06.07.2020). A discussion on the topic can be followed at H. Magdoff (2006), The Meaning of Work: A Marxist Perspective, Monthly Review, Vol. 58, No. 5 (https://monthlyreview.org/2006/10/01/the-meaning-of-work-a-marxist-perspective/, 13.07.2020)). Furthermore, these developments go hand in hand with the digitalization of daily life where the blurring of the boundaries between work and life is still increasing due to the options of digital technologies. These blurring boundaries form more and more the background for future models of work, where “smart” or “intelligent” frameworks form the normative idea of “work 4.0” [1].

However, behind these developments, there is another trend that will be highlighted in this Special Issue: the ongoing process of automation. The impulse for the actual debate of automation at the work level was initiated by the study of [2], where the authors provided a scenario of technical unemployment in the US based on technical automation dynamics. This study had a huge resonance in political and societal debate, raising the (old) new question with regard to the connection of technical innovations and its impact on labor markets [3,4]. Although the issues and results of that study have been strongly criticized due to the study’s methodology [5], their hypothesis of (technical) options to further automatize working processes will become a real scenario for the next decades [6,7]. One strong critical issue was the impracticality of assigning the empirical results for the U.S. context to other countries without taking institutional and political settings into account [8,9]. At least in highly industrialized societies, the mere trend towards “technical unemployment” should be assessed at the macro and micro levels in order to obtain a comprehensive picture of the impact of automation processes. Historical evidence has shown that there was an evolution of new labor markets and new occupations (an occupation can be defined as “a set of jobs whose main tasks and duties are characterized by a high degree of similarity”, according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). Under the same International Labor Organization resolution, a “job is defined as a set of tasks and duties performed” (https://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/docs/resol08.pdf, 10.07.2020)) on the macro scale. However, on the quantitative long-term scale, a huge number of jobs disappeared such as in agriculture or handicraft [10]. Facing global challenges such as the “limits of growth” [11], the increasing social polarization [12] and the discrepancy between formal and informal work worldwide, it is clear that the objective of steadily increasing productivity by automation should be called into question.

Following this critical perspective, this Special Issue of the journal “Societies” will discuss the concept of the (technical) automation of working environments from an interdisciplinary perspective. Hereby, the socio-technical trends of automation, the “normal” routines of continuous automatization and the impact of automation on working conditions will be determined theoretically and empirically.

Hereby, the hypothesis of Frey and Osborne of “technical unemployment” will be the guiding hypothesis of the Special Issue. Taking the normative concept of the redistribution of wealth into consideration, automation processes are foreseen to provide the basis for new models of work and life [13]. Those visions have to be developed, consequently, with regard to new social, ecological and economic working models. AI and digital technologies will certainly play an important role in these visions but certainly should not be the normative enabler of these developments.

Questions

  1. How can the “notion” of automatization theoretically be described today?
  2. Which economic, political and ethical challenges are faced when reflecting on automatization processes?
  3. Which social conditions are emerging through an extended process of automation throughout most working environments (in the positive and negative senses)?
  4. Is there any economic evidence of improved productivity or performance in organizations derived from the increased automation processes in their workflows?
  5. Which new forms of human resource management or labor relations can be expected with the intensification of automation?
  6. It is possible that working time will decrease, on average, with a major investment in automatization technologies? Which trends are expected?
  7. How are automatization processes influencing the blurring of the boundaries of work and life?

We very much invite contributions for papers (articles, conceptual papers or reviews) to be published in this journal addressing the topic of the Special Issue, until February 2021.

Literature:

  • Bundesministerum für Soziales und Arbeit (Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs, Germany) (2017): White Paper Work 4.0. Arbeit weiter denken. Berlin.
  • Frey, C. B., and Osborne, M. A. (2013): The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, Oxford: The Oxford Martin School.
  • Autor, Levy and Murnane (2003), The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 118, no. 4, pp. 1279–1333.
  • Brynjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A. (2011), The Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy; Digital Frontier Press: Lexington, KY.
  • Arntz, M., Gregory, T. and Zierahn, U. (2016), The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris. Available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jlz9h56dvq7-en.
  • Pfeiffer, S. (2016), Robots, Industry 4.0 and Humans, or Why Assembly Work Is More than Routine Work. Societies, 6, 16.
  • Acemoglu, D. and Restrepo, P. (2019), Automation and New Tasks: How technology displaces and reinstates labor, IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 12293, April, 66 pp.
  • Srnicek, N. and Williams, A. (2015): Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World Without Work; Verso Books: London.
  • Hodgson, G. M. (2016), The Future of Work in the Twenty-First Century, Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 197–216.
  • Moniz, A. B. and Krings, B.-J. (2016) Robots Working with Humans or Humans Working with Robots? Searching for Social Dimensions in New Human-Robot Interaction in Industry, Societies, vol. 6(3), p. 23.
  • Meadows, D. H.; Meadows, D. L.; Randers, J.; Behrens, W. (1972): The Limits of Growth; Universe Books: Washington DC.
  • Huws, U. (2007): Defragmenting: towards a critical understanding of the new global division of labour, Work organization, labour & globalization, Volume 1, Number 2, p. 1–14.
  • Mason, P. (2015): PostCapitalism: A guide to our future, London: Penguin.

Prof. Dr. António B. Moniz
Dr. Bettina-Johanna Krings
Prof. Dr. Oriol Homs
Prof. Dr. Ilona Bučiūnienė
Prof. Dr. Csaba Makó
Guest Editors

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Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

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Article
Are Translators Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?
Societies 2022, 12(2), 70; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc12020070 - 12 Apr 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1092
Abstract
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a leading technology in the digital transformation. AI is expected to cause job losses in general, initially in professions associated with routine activities, and subsequently in the field of creative professions. The present article analysed the results of the [...] Read more.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a leading technology in the digital transformation. AI is expected to cause job losses in general, initially in professions associated with routine activities, and subsequently in the field of creative professions. The present article analysed the results of the authors’ own empirical sociological survey of the attitude of Bulgarian translators towards AI, and the ways in which it will change their profession. Most of them perceive artificial intelligence and automatization as threats to the profession. According to them, digital technologies and AI will modify the profession by relieving human translators of the routine, technical part of the job. Hence, translators will predominantly edit machine-translated texts, and teach artificial intelligence to perform machine translation. The conclusion of the analysis demonstrates that, in the case of Bulgarian translators, such pessimistic scenarios about mass jobs destruction are not justified. In addition, expectations of a deterioration in quality of work as a result of digitalization in the near future are not justified in the case of the translating profession. The present survey results serve as a basis for further research about the impact of artificial intelligence on other creative professions. Full article
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Article
Recent Automation Trends in Portugal: Implications on Industrial Productivity and Employment in Automotive Sector
Societies 2021, 11(3), 101; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11030101 - 18 Aug 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1113
Abstract
Recent developments in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are leading to a wave of innovation in organizational design and changes in the workplace. Techno-optimists even named it the “second machine age,” arguing that it now involves the substitution of the human brain. Other [...] Read more.
Recent developments in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are leading to a wave of innovation in organizational design and changes in the workplace. Techno-optimists even named it the “second machine age,” arguing that it now involves the substitution of the human brain. Other authors see this as just a continuation of previous ICT developments. Potentially, automation and AI can have significant technical, economic, and social implications in firms. This paper will answer the following question: What are the implications on industrial productivity and employment in the automotive sector with the recent automation trends, including AI, in Portugal? Our approach used mixed methods to conduct statistical analyses of relevant databases and interviews with experts on R&D projects related to automation and AI implementation. Results suggest that automation can have widespread adoption in the short term in the automotive sector, but AI technologies will take more time to be adopted. The findings show that adoption of automation and AI increases productivity in firms and is dephased in time with employment implications. Investments in automation are not substituting operators but rather changing work organization. Thus, negative effects of technology and unemployment were not substantiated by our results. Full article
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Article
Technological Development and the Labour Market: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Automation in Hungary in the International Comparison?
Societies 2021, 11(3), 93; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11030093 - 05 Aug 2021
Viewed by 898
Abstract
In our study, we analyse data from the Hungarian Microcensus (2016) in order to map the proportion of Hungarian jobs threatened by the spread of automation. In doing so, we use the internationally well-known methodology of Carl Benedict Frey and Michael A. Osborne [...] Read more.
In our study, we analyse data from the Hungarian Microcensus (2016) in order to map the proportion of Hungarian jobs threatened by the spread of automation. In doing so, we use the internationally well-known methodology of Carl Benedict Frey and Michael A. Osborne who estimated the probability of computerization for 702 occupations. The analysis was then repeated by Panarinen and Rouvinen for the Finnish labour market by converting the probabilities defined for the US occupational statistics to the European International Standard Classification of Occupations. Similar calculations were conducted for the Swedish and Norwegian labour markets. According to our results, almost every second Hungarian employee (44%) works in a job that is threatened by the development of digital technologies. The same ratio is 47% in the US and 53% in Sweden, while it is much lower in Finland (35%) and Norway (33%). It is especially alarming that 13% of the Hungarian workforce (i.e., almost 600,000 employees) works in an occupation where the probability of computerization is above 95%, while the number of those working in occupations where the same ratio is above 90% exceeds one million (i.e., 25% of the total Hungarian labour force). Diving deeper into the analysis, we can state that those with higher educational qualifications are more likely to work in an occupation that is more protected against computerization. Overall, there are no significant differences in the probability of computerization by gender; however, women are over-represented in the most endangered occupations. Full article
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Article
Constitutional Values in the Gig-Economy? Why Labor Law Fails at Platform Work, and What Can We Do about It?
Societies 2021, 11(3), 86; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11030086 - 27 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1141
Abstract
Gig-work, or platform work, has been in the crosshairs of regulators since roughly the mid-2010s. The employment of an increasing number of platform workers raises a number of problems, however, there is no longer a consensus as to whether these problems are only [...] Read more.
Gig-work, or platform work, has been in the crosshairs of regulators since roughly the mid-2010s. The employment of an increasing number of platform workers raises a number of problems, however, there is no longer a consensus as to whether these problems are only the emergence of certain well-established labor law issues in a new guise, or completely new ones. To date, only one possible solution seems to have emerged, that of bringing platform work under the umbrella of labor law. This study argues, on the one hand, that platform work has a characteristic that was previously unknown in the world of labor relations (algorithmic and data-based work organization) and, on the other hand, that it has two other characteristics (tripartite structure and network effect) that create an entirely new quality that requires innovative legal approaches. The study selects some of the recent European Union standards regulating various kinds of online platforms which may also provide useful solutions for the regulation of platform work. Full article
Article
Visions of Automation: A Comparative Discussion of Two Approaches
Societies 2021, 11(2), 63; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11020063 - 16 Jun 2021
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Abstract
In recent years, fears of technological unemployment have (re-)emerged strongly in public discourse. In response, policymakers and researchers have tried to gain a more nuanced understanding of the future of work in an age of automation. In these debates, it has become common [...] Read more.
In recent years, fears of technological unemployment have (re-)emerged strongly in public discourse. In response, policymakers and researchers have tried to gain a more nuanced understanding of the future of work in an age of automation. In these debates, it has become common practice to signal expertise on automation by referencing a plethora of studies, rather than limiting oneself to the careful discussion of a small number of selected papers whose epistemic limitations one might actually be able to grasp comprehensively. This paper addresses this shortcoming. I will first give a very general introduction to the state of the art of research on potentials for automation, using the German case as an example. I will then provide an in-depth analysis of two studies of the field that exemplify two competing approaches to the question of automatability: studies that limit themselves to discussing technological potentials for automation on the one hand, and macroeconomic scenario methods that claim to provide more concrete assessments of the connection between job losses (or job creation) and technological innovation in the future on the other. Finally, I will provide insight into the epistemic limitations and the specific vices and virtues of these two approaches from the perspective of critical social theory, thereby contributing to a more enlightened and reflexive debate on the future of automation. Full article

Review

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Review
Understanding Technological Unemployment: A Review of Causes, Consequences, and Solutions
Societies 2021, 11(2), 50; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11020050 - 21 May 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2485
Abstract
Many studies have focused on estimating the impact of automation on work around the world with results ranging widely. Despite the disagreement about the level of impact that automation will have, experts agree that new technologies tend to be applied to every economic [...] Read more.
Many studies have focused on estimating the impact of automation on work around the world with results ranging widely. Despite the disagreement about the level of impact that automation will have, experts agree that new technologies tend to be applied to every economic sector, thus impacting work regardless of substituting or complementing it. The purpose of this study is to move on from the discussion about the size of the impact of automation to understanding the main social impacts that automation will cause and what actions should be taken to deal with them. For this purpose, we reviewed literature about technological unemployment found in Scopus and Web of Science published since 2000, presenting an academic view of the actions necessary to deal with the social impact of automation. Our results summarize causes, consequences, and solutions for the technological unemployment found in the literature. We also found that the literature is mainly concentrated on the areas of economy, sociology, and philosophy, with the authors situated in developed economies such as the USA, Europe, and New Zealand. Finally, we present the research agenda proposed by the reviewed papers that could motivate new research on the subject. Full article
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Other

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Concept Paper
Social Dimensions in CPS & IoT Based Automated Production Systems
Societies 2021, 11(3), 98; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11030098 - 12 Aug 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1433
Abstract
Since the 1970s, the application of microprocessor in industrial machinery and the development of computer systems have transformed the manufacturing landscape. The rapid integration and automation of production systems have outpaced the development of suitable human design criteria, creating a deepening gap between [...] Read more.
Since the 1970s, the application of microprocessor in industrial machinery and the development of computer systems have transformed the manufacturing landscape. The rapid integration and automation of production systems have outpaced the development of suitable human design criteria, creating a deepening gap between humans and systems in which human was seen as an important source of errors and disruptions. Today, the situation seems different: the scientific and public debate about the concept of Industry 4.0 has raised awareness about the central role humans have to play in manufacturing systems, the design of which must be considered from the very beginning. The future of industrial systems, as represented by Industry 4.0, will rely on the convergence of several research fields such as Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS), Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), Internet of Things (IoT), but also socio-technical fields such as social approaches within technical systems. This article deals with different human social dimensions associated with CPS and IoT and focuses on their conceptual evolution regarding automated production systems’ sociability, notably by bringing humans back in the loop. Hereby, this paper aims to take stock of current research trends to show the importance of integrating human operators as a part of a socio-technical system based autonomous and intelligent products or resources. Consequently, different models of sociability as a way to integrate humans in the broad sense and/or the develop future automated production systems have been identified from the literature and analysed. Full article
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