automatic News for 05-30-2019

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How much are we sacrificing for automation?

Using counting, metrics, and implementation of outcomes from extreme data analysis to inform policies for humans is a threat to our well-being, and results in the stories we are hearing about in the warehouse, and in other areas of our lives, where humans are too often forfeiting their agency to algorithms and machines. There are reasons for Taylorism at Amazon, and much of it has to do with the hires it makes, the decisions its employees make in management and development, and how those decisions impact the people who are required to do the labor that makes those processes actually work. When human agency is pitted against automation that is difficult to control, there are problems, and in extreme cases, these problems can be fatal. As the world continues to automate things, processes, and services, humans are put in positions where we must constantly adapt, since at the moment, automation cannot, and does not, cooperate with us outside of its pre-programmed repertoire. While office workers yield to algorithmic partners in the form of software or business processes, warehouse workers yield their agency by shifting their schedules, and working with robot partners instead of, or alongside, algorithmic partners in the form of software. 

In this way, a worker maneuvering around robots has less agency with regard to their body at work than those in the offices who are making the decisions about how those workers will work. While the idea was to protect human workers from robots, it has not been perceived in the way it was likely intended. In the extreme, a cage yet again implies that humans will yield their agency to the robots, appearing to give some truth to the warehouse workers’ initial complaints that robots are given preferential treatment in the Amazon workplace. If a company is practicing this Taylorism throughout its culture, humans are going to make decisions about how other humans should work or interact with systems in ways that are going to be in the interest of the metrics that they are serving. If Amazon rewards frugality in management, and is collecting data on how management manages, then management is going to do what it can to maximize forms of automation in order to stay relevant in the organization. 

The Amazon warehouse worker is at the end of the line of the frugality Taylorism decision tree, and is subjected to being judged against algorithmic processes that control data and machines faster than many humans can process information, much less physically act upon it. S. A. Applin, PhD, is an anthropologist whose research explores the domains of human agency, algorithms, AI, and automation in the context of social systems and sociability. 

Keywords: [“Human”,”work”,”Amazon”]


Automation or automatic control is the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes in factories, boilers and heat treating ovens, switching on telephone networks, steering and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications and vehicles with minimal or reduced human intervention. Automation covers applications ranging from a household thermostat controlling a boiler, to a large industrial control system with ten of thousands of input measurements and output control signals. The mathematical basis of control theory was begun in the 18th century and advanced rapidly in the 20th. Automation has been achieved by various means including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic devices and computers, usually in combination. Fundamentally, there are two types of control loop; open loop control, and closed loop feedback control. 

The definition of a closed loop control system according to the British Standard Institution is ‘a control system possessing monitoring feedback, the deviation signal formed as a result of this feedback being used to control the action of a final control element in such a way as to tend to reduce the deviation to zero. A Feedback Control System is a system which tends to maintain a prescribed relationship of one system variable to another by comparing functions of these variables and using the difference as a means of control. The advanced type of automation that revolutionized manufacturing, aircraft, communications, and other industries, is feedback control, which is usually continuous and involves taking measurements using a sensor and making calculated adjustments to keep the measured variable within a set range. The theoretical basis of closed-loop automation is control theory. Process control computers can process data from a network of PLCs, instruments, and controllers in order to implement typical control of many individual variables or, in some cases, to implement complex control algorithms using multiple inputs and mathematical manipulations. 

During the 1940s and 1950s, German mathematician Irmgard Flugge-Lotz developed the theory of discontinuous automatic control, which became widely used in hysteresis control systems such as navigation systems, fire-control systems, and electronics. Full automation commonly defined as requiring no control or very limited control by the driver; such automation would be accomplished through a combination of sensor, computer, and communications systems in vehicles and along the roadway. Industrial automation deals primarily with the automation of manufacturing, quality control and material handling processes. 

Keywords: [“control”,”Automation”,”system”]