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Mallory James speaks at invited workshop “Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century: The Future of Work in the Age of Automation” at IEEE-Ethics 2023 in Purdue, Indiana

Mallory James from the Professorship of Science & Technology Policy presented at an invitation-only workshop at the global electrical engineering society meeting, IEEE-Ethics 2023, from 18-20 May. Together with 12 other invited speakers from Canada, Australia, the USA, India, and Estonia, Mallory explored the major changes to labor markets, occupations, and the qualitative nature of “work” that are expected to accompany technological innovation.The day’s meeting worked on a theme that was integral to the 1970s origins of STS, namely, the political refusal of technological determinism as it can appear in the form of a taking a ‘wait and see and hope for the best’ attitude to technological change. Instead, the organizers attempted to bring together observers from arts, humanities, business, social sciences, and engineering to observe what kinds of consequences are already developing from emergent forms of automation that can not only replace jobs, but also change the internal composition of workplace activities. Speakers made normative and observational contributions regarding what each person expects for the future of work in an age of technological automation. Each speaker also contributed a discussion question for the facilitated conversations.

As the only participant from an STS department, Mallory focused her contribution on the limitations of expert concepts. Specifically, she discussed how the pre-reading texts from science fiction author Kurt Vonnegut and cybernetic theorist Norbert Wiener frame the limitations of engineering expertise and awareness, in ways that can still affect academic and practitioner abilities to address ‘the futureof work.’  Mallory aimed for commentary uniting the pre-readings with a conceptual framework from the sociologist Saskia Sassen and a brief example from her social research with Prof. Ruth Müller. Sassen’s concept of “expulsions,” as defined in Mallory’s talk entitled “Thinking beyond ‘the systemic edge’: Observed difficulties for experts in comprehending and responding to industrial change,” was later taken up in conversation by Zach Pearl and Iven Mareels. The interdisciplinary conversations that followed uncovered new resonances between scholarly agendas for labor market research now based in business schools, and the topical interests of the Science & Technology Policy research group.

IEEE-Ethics 2023 is a conference convened by the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, established in 1972. IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is “the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity,” and its current scope includes many fields beyond its earlier emphases on telecommunications and computer engineering.

The “Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century” workshop series has been underway since 2014 and in its interdisciplinary nature, is partially inspired by the Macy Conferences on cybernetics that were held from 1946-1953. This 18 May workshop was convened by Greg Adamson, Brent Jesiek, Heather Love, Iven Mareels, and Michael Rigby. The organizers anticipate publishing the conference proceedings after further reflective and reporting work by meeting participants.

  • Dr. Mallory James
  • Phone: +49 (1516) 5714546
  • Email: Mallory.james@tum.de
  • TUM School of Social Sciences and Technology, Department of Science, Technology and Society (STS), Room 350
  • Augustenstraße 46, 80333 München, Germany

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