For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Calculation and the Division of Labor, 1750-1950"

by Daston, L (2018)


Calculating machines placed new demands on human intelligence, but did they pave the way for Artificial Intelligence? They did arguably expand the domain of algorithms, by forcing a rethinking of how to optimize Big Calculation at every level, from the innards of the machines to the organization of work fl ow to the attentive interaction with the machines. But making calculation even more algorithmic, in the sense of following standardized, step-by-step procedures, is a long way from making intelligence algorithmic. For that to happen, the reduction of intelligence to a form of calculation had to seem both possible and desirable.

Key Passage

In a sense, the analytical intelligence demanded by human-machine production lines for calculations was no different than the adaptations required by any mechanized manufacture: mechanical weaving looms did not operate the way human weavers did; the sequencing of human and mechanical labor in a textile factory also required breaking down tasks in new and counter-intuitive ways. In another sense, however, the analytical intelligence applied to making human machine cooperation in calculation work was a rehearsal for anactivity that would become known first as Operations Research and later computer programming. (p.30)


Calculation, Artificial Intelligence, Division Of Labor, Algorithms, Computerisation


History of Work, History of Work, Automation, Automation

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