Automation Anxiety

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Media, Film and Music

Abstract

From self-driving cars, through high-frequency trading to military drones and organised swarms of shelf-stacking robots, our era is marked by rising automation and a new concern with the likely social, cultural, and economic implications of this computationally driven transformation. This research network will explore innovative methods by which the humanities might address contemporary cultural anxiety about new forms of automation, which we are calling automation anxiety. The network will organise contemporary automation anxiety into three themes which form the basis of each workshop:

1. Human obsolescence: the automation of cognitive labour, and the ends of human expertise;
2. Human (in)security: automated military engagement, law enforcement, and surveillance
3. Human in(attention): automation or delegation to machines which produces anxiety or instability.

Concern with the mechanisation of tasks formerly done by humans extends back to the beginning of the industrial era. The loss of jobs to machines, which John Maynard Keynes called 'technological unemployment', was a recurring economic and social anxiety throughout the twentieth century. There are long-standing economic, historical and sociological debates about the impact of automation. However the current wave of computational technology, using algorithms, machine learning and other techniques, extends automation beyond the factory and into roles requiring complex decision-making, previously an exclusively human realm. While in many cases the computational techniques are not especially novel, the application of these approaches to concrete systems and products has generated a new wave of anxiety about their impact on human culture and society. These concerns manifest themselves in public culture through news stories, editorials, films and airport bestsellers around the notions of, for example, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The humanities need new tools to analyse contemporary automation anxiety. Much of the debate in public culture expresses itself online and in social media, which requires the exploration of digital methods, such as web scraping, data visualisation, sentiment analysis, and digital ethnography. Equally, an analysis of automation anxiety calls for the humanities to have a better understanding of the computational culture of automation itself. Many concerns arise from the opacity of the technology and the replacement of more-or-less understandable and accountable systems of human decision-making with the 'black boxes' of algorithms or machine learning. For these reasons, research on contemporary automation anxiety calls for a network that is both radically transdisciplinary and focused on research methods.

The proposed network will represent an unparalleled opportunity to bring together a wide range of knowledge and expertise from diverse disciplines and backgrounds in order to generate new collaborative research projects in this area. The workshops will convene scholars in philosophy, language and literature, history, media and communication, cultural geography, journalism, cultural studies, law, history, computer science, economics and sociology together with non-academic users in the fields of artificial intelligence, policy consultancy, innovation advocacy and social media analysis. They will explore dimensions of contemporary automation anxiety including the philosophy of autonomous killing machines, the image of the drone in literature and popular culture, algorithmic law enforcement through computerised 'predictive policing', feminism and the automation of labour, algorithmic governmentality and automation as disruption of the state. The development of UK research in this area will be enhanced and shaped by the inclusion within the workshops of recognised, world-leading experts in the cultural and social impact of automation.

Planned Impact

This network will examine the growing human implications of computationally-driven automation. It will produce new thinking and engage with a range of constituencies both affected by and leading policy and civil discussion around automation. The workshops bring academics in the disciplines of philosophy, language and literature, history, media and communication, cultural geography, journalism, cultural studies, law, history, computer science, economics and sociology together with research users in artificial intelligence, innovation advocacy, policy consultancy and social media analysis to discuss cultural anxiety associated with automation. The network will examine methods and digital tools that could be used to analyse that anxiety for purposes that include producing tangible outputs in the areas of social policy and design of services and products. The network will affect the following impact areas:

1. Public understanding of concerns around automation

There is an urgent need to enhance the public understanding of ubiquitous computation of which automation anxiety is a symptom. These include concerns about the implication of automation for the world of work, automated technologies for defence and law enforcement such as drones or predictive policing and human loss of skill and interest due to the delegation of tasks to computational automation. Channel 4 Economics Editor Paul Mason, a confirmed network participant, has demonstrated the importance of academic research around automation to public thinking in his recent "Postcapitalism a guide to our future".

2. Digital tools for analysing public culture

This network's focus on innovation in research methods will benefit those who use digital tools to analyse public culture, such as think tanks, pressure groups and social media analysis companies. Network participants will explore new techniques and methodologies for analysing cultural anxiety; once defined and presented these will be available for academic and non-academic use by contributors to the network such as Brandwatch who specialise in social media analysis. Equally the Sussex Text Analytics Group, working with Demos and Ipsos MORI, have extensive experience of bringing the benefits of text analysis to wider debates in public culture.

3. Management and analysis of public data

The use of algorithms and machine learning to analyse patterns in large datasets has far reaching implications for the use of public data. The gathering, management and analysis of this data will benefit from the network's analysis of cultural anxiety about, for example, forms of law enforcement that target policing based on computational analysis of crime, housing and census data. It will inform policy and decision making about how and why data is gathered and increase understanding about why these anxieties exist.

4. Understanding and developing technological innovation

Public concern about automation has extensive significance for organisations and companies engaged in promoting innovation in the UK. Those involved with developing new forms of automation and managing and promoting innovation in this area, such as Nesta, will benefit from a clearer analysis of public concerns and anxieties about new computerised forms of automation. Groups which engage with technological innovation need to understand better how automation anxieties are symptomatic of wider cultural concerns.

5. Development and design of automated systems

Understanding the human experience of automation from a cultural perspective is of crucial relevance to the successful adoption of design and development of future automated systems.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Performance of "Job Vacancy: Echoborg" 
Description This performance was a media arts project collaboration that explores aspects of the mediated and automated future currently in development. The performance deploys a ChatBot-based system in a fictional near future scenario to provide participants with an unsettling experience of the future of work. The project was created by Rik Lander in collaboration with Phil Hall of Elzware Conversation Systems as AI and ChatBot designer. An echoborg is a hybrid agent composed of the body of a real person and the "mind" (or, rather, the words) of a conversational agent; the words the echoborg speaks are determined by the conversational agent, transmitted to the person via a covert audio-relay apparatus, and articulated by the person through speech shadowing. The role of echoborg in this performance was taken by Marie-Helene Boyd. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The performance took place on the same day as Workshop 1 of the Automation Anxiety research network. The performance was free and open to both participants in the workshop and the wider public. 
URL http://echoborg.com/
 
Title Rod Dickinson, Zero Sum 
Description Zero Sum is an instructional video, and a role-playing installation. The audience are asked to role play a part in a simulated a classic social dilemma that models cooperation and non-cooperation. Seated around a table participants are guided through the dilemma by an on screen avatar. Zero Sum explores how software driven computational systems impact human behaviour and how computational and mathematical models have also been used to predict behaviour. The artwork uses a mix of testimony from workers whose jobs are in automated environments such as call centres and a classic game theory dilemma: The Volunteer's Dilemma (often referred to as The Free Rider Problem in economics). Zero Sum is an anti-game in which the audience's choices and decisions are scripted and made for them so that their experience echoes that of the workers testimony they are listening to. T 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This work was exhibited as part of the artist's participation in Workshop 3 of Automation Anxiety and participants of the workshop were interactees. 
 
Description 1. We have investigated and evaluated methods and tools for exploring contemporary automation anxiety. For example, we held a workshop where computational linguists facilitated workshop participants in using text analysis tools to evaluate historical and contemporary automation anxiety. 2. We have brought together scholars from different disciplines, along with interested parties from industry and creative artists to consider automation anxiety around (i) obsolescence (automation and the world of work) ; (ii) insecurity (automation and defence / policing); (iii) automation and attention (automation of human attention).
Exploitation Route The academic outcomes of the project will be taken forward and developed through (i) a special issue of the journal New Formations, due to be published in 2019; (ii) further funding applications in more specific areas that were part of the broad network. For example several network participant are currently involved in the development of a project that looks in greater detail at what we can learn from the postwar history of anxiety about automation. Non-academic beneficiaries, including those involved in developing computational automation, stand to benefit from the way in which the project shifts debates around Artificial Intelligence from a narrow focus on ethics to broader questions of societal challenge.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Automation Anxiety: Workshop 1 - Automation and Obsolescence 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This workshop focused on the forms of cognitive automation that inspire contemporary concern about a 'rise of the robots', anxiety
concerning the replacement of human labour by computational processes, algorithms and machine learning. Methods and resources evaluated here included data-led analysis of automation anxiety as an historical topos.

In addition to the academic participants, the workshop was also attended by industry professionals from AI software and media arts organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://storify.com/SussexHumsLab/automation-anxiety
 
Description Automation Anxiety: Workshop 2 - Automation and (In)Security 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This workshop addressed the theme of human (in)security in
relation to automated defence, security and surveillance technologies such as
drones, crime prediction algorithms and computerised monitoring.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/automationanxiety/workshops/workshop-2-human-insecurity/
 
Description Automation Anxiety: Workshop 3 - Automation and (In)Attention 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This workshop explored anxiety about the atrophy of human
skills through the automation of complex cognitive skills such as navigation, control of
aircraft or vehicles. It also examined cases where the delegation of human tasks
to machines directly become a source of anxiety, instability or concern.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/automationanxiety/workshops/workshop-3-human-inattention/
 
Description Interview with PI and Co-I in Swiss newspaper Le Temps 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The PI and Co-I were interviewed about the AHRC Rsearch Network by Judith Duportail for the Swiss newspaper Le Temps. This resulted in the article "Le robot, notre nouvelle angoisse existentielle" which was published in Le Temps on 20 January 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.letemps.ch/sciences/2017/01/20/robot-nouvelle-angoisse-existentielle
 
Description PI and Co-I attended a workshop on 'Automation of Future Roles' 7-8 November 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The PI and Co-I attended a workshop organised jointly by the ESRC and DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) on the 'Automation of Future Roles' (7-8 November 2016). They participated in two days of workshop activities aimed at defining future areas for research around automation and its impact. This workshop resulted in a report (not yet published) which will feed into both the ESRC and DSTL's future thinking and priorities in this area.

The practical objectives of the workshop were:

1. To identify and assess prior academic and stakeholder predictions of the impact of new technologies on human tasks, roles and jobs.

2. To understand how impacts and effects can be assessed, in particular on:

- tasks, roles, and jobs.

- human, knowledge, skills and attributes.

- organisational structures and cultures.

- organisational development.

- workforce training, recruitment, engagement and motivation.

- decision making in organisations

The workshop was attended by academics from across social science, engineering, computer science and arts, together with representatives from business and industry and the DSTL itself.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) "ensures that innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description PI attended ESRC/NSF workshop "Changing Work, Changing Lives in the New Technological World" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact This workshop brought together researchers from a range of disciplinary perspectives based in the US and UK to explore the social and behavioural science research related to human interactions with digital and other emerging technologies in the context of work. The workshop was jointly organised by the UK ESRC and US NSF.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Twitter feed for the Automation Anxiety project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The twitter feed for the AHRC Automation Anxiety is used to disseminate information about the project to a wider audience and to gather and disseminate online information and news stories that are relevant to the project's aims and objectives.

The twitter feed has already been the basis of contacts with the media such as an article in the Swiss newspaper Le Temps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://twitter.com/automtnanxiety
 
Description Website for the AHRC Automation Anxiety Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The AHRC Automation Anxiety website disseminates information about the project to both participants and the wider public, media and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/automationanxiety/