Man, Work & the Automated Feast
AUTOMATION IS SAID to have ancient beginnings. To be sure, the technology from which it stems goes back several centuries, at least. Automatic devices in the middle 18th century included a mechanical loom for the manu- facture of figured silks; James Watt’s steam engine utilized a fly-ball governor which controlled the speed at which his contrivance operated; and it has been suggested that automation’s basic concept- the linkage of machines-is evident in the detachable harpoon head of the Eskimo. Yet to assert that automation is simply the latest link in a great chain of industrial history obscures what is patently a new phenomenon. In the old days, industrial change developed through fission: division of labor was the key to progress and work was made available to a huge pool of unskilled persons who in the main had been forced to migrate from farm to city. Today, it is precisely these unskilled, together with semi-skilled and even some of management’s people, who are displaced and poured back into the pool. Furthermore, automation represents a marked acceleration of change with so cumulative a force that this alone spells a profound difference from what went on before.
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