For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Robots in the Workplace: a Threat to—or Opportunity for—Meaningful Work?"

by Smids, Jilles; Nyholm, Sven; Berkers, Hannah (2020)


The concept of meaningful work has recently received increased attention in philosophy and other disciplines. However, the impact of the increasing robotization of the workplace on meaningful work has received very little attention so far. Doing work that is meaningful leads to higher job satisfaction and increased worker well-being, and some argue for a right to access to meaningful work. In this paper, we therefore address the impact of robotization on meaningful work. We do so by identifying five key aspects of meaningful work: pursuing a purpose, social relationships, exercising skills and self-development, self-esteem and recognition, and autonomy. For each aspect, we analyze how the introduction of robots into the workplace may diminish or enhance the meaningfulness of work. We also identify a few ethical issues that emerge from our analysis. We conclude that robotization of the workplace can have both significant negative and positive effects on meaningful work. Our findings about ways in which robotization of the workplace can be a threat or opportunity for meaningful work can serve as the basis for ethical arguments for how to—and how not to—implement robots into workplaces.


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Meaningful Work, Robots, Algorithms, AI and Computerisation, Automation

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