For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Robots and Organization Studies: Why Robots Might Not Want to Steal Your Job"

by Fleming, Peter (2019)


A number of recent high-profile studies of robotics and artificial intelligence (or AI) in economics and sociology have predicted that many jobs will soon disappear due to automation, with few new ones replacing them. While techno-optimists and techno-pessimists contest whether a jobless future is a positive development or not, this paper points to the elephant in the room. Despite successive waves of computerization (including advanced machine learning), jobs have not disappeared. And probably won?t in the near future. To explain why, some basic insights from organization studies can make a contribution. I propose the concept of ?bounded automation? to demonstrate how organizational forces mould the application of technology in the employment sector. If work does not vanish in the age of AI, then poorly paid jobs will most certainly proliferate, I argue. Finally, a case is made for the scholarly community to engage with wider social justice concerns. This I term public organization studies.

Key Passage

The so-called ‘second machine age’ (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014) refers to the rapid maturation of digital, robotic and computational technology, and most recently AI or ‘machine learning’.3 Thousands of routine jobs disappeared with the first appearance of computer technology in the 1980s, combined with the offshoring of work to the Global South (Gordon, 1996). So what distinguishes applications of AI from past uses of automation? Unlike factory machines, robotics can perform non-routine labour of the physical, cognitive and even emotional kind (Ford, 2015). What some technologists term ‘the singularity’ takes the argument one step further (Chace, 2016). Highly advanced computer algorithms not only mimic human capabilities – such as opening a door – but display a sort of person-like reflectivity while doing so (e.g. judging when and how the door should be opened in a polite manner). Activities we never dreamt a robot could perform will soon be automated (Cameron, 2017). In light of Moore’s Law, in which digital processing power doubles every 18 months, some kind of highly roboticized future is looking increasingly probable. (p.25)


Robots, Job Destruction, Technological Unemployment, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Technology


Robots, Automation

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