Data & Society > our work > blog posts > The future of designing autonomous systems will involve ethnographers

EthnographyMatters.net | 06.28.16

The future of designing autonomous systems will involve ethnographers

Madeleine Clare Elish

D&S researcher Madeleine Clare Elish asserts ethnography and anthropology’s role in studying automation and intelligent systems.

Cultural perceptions of the role of humans in automated and robotic systems need to be updated in order to protect against new forms of consumer and worker harms. The symptoms of moral crumple zones (at the risk of mixing metaphors) are some of the phenomena that human factors researchers have been studying for years, such as deskilling, skill atrophy, and impossible cognitive workloads. One of the consequences is that the risks and rewards of technological development do not necessarily develop in the broader public interest. As with previous transitions in the history of automation, new technologies do not so much do away with the human but rather obscure the ways in which human labor and social relations are reconfigured.

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