iConference 2018 Automation Workshop: Call for Participation

By | 1 November 2017

Automation and the next wave of computerisation: Sociotechnical approaches to automation, robots, machine learning and artificial intelligence


Progress made in mobile robotics, machine learning, natural language processing, and machine vision, coupled with the availability of large data sets and ubiquity of sensors have captured scholars interests in understanding the impact these technologies will have on work and society. One study using data from the U.S. Department of Labor found that 47 percent of the U.S. workforce is at risk of routine task automation in the next two decades (Frey & Osborne, 2013). Other reports have shown similar results concluding 38 percent automation in the US economy over 15 years and 30 percent in the UK, 35% in Germany, and 21% in Japan (UK Economic Outlook, 2017).

There is a litany of recently published popular books and expert opinion on the transformative impact of these technologies will have on society and work. These range from dystopian visions of mass unemployment as robots replace workers (Ford, 2016), to more utopianist futures where robots and artificial intelligence will perform tasks better and more safely than expert professionals ever could with society better off for it (Susskind & Susskind, 2017). However, in this workshop we will explore the notion that one possible future of work will involve people performing non-routine tasks and careers that rely on social, emotional, and creative skills. In this possible future, people will work alongside complex systems of automation and decision making (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014). Most important to understanding this phenomenon of automation, artificial intelligence, and the future of work is accepting that futures and technologies are fundamentally social (Wajcman, 2017).

Workshop Goals

The nature of the discussion will focus on methods, emerging and important domains of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence, ideas for a research agenda, opportunities for development, and ideas that emerge from the panel discussion. The goals of the workshop are to produce three main outcomes. First, to discuss and detail emerging concepts, problems, methods, and research trajectories in the sociotechnical understanding of automation. Second, the results of the workshop will be featured in a blog post for the sociotech.net website and cross posted on the Oxford Internet Institute blog. Third, participants will have ample opportunities to network and create potential collaborations in this area.

Intended Audience

Automation and related technologies are of immediate interest to scholars in the areas of sociotechnical research, science and technology studies, infrastructure studies, computer supported cooperative work, human-computer interaction, and other attendees of the iConference who are equipped to engage with the social futures and technologies under discussion at this workshop. We also want to highlight the importance of diverse attendance at this workshop and extend an invitation not only to traditional scholars but to the developers, engineers, creators, and makers of these technologies and related areas. While automation has been in use since the industrial revolution, this new wave of automation in highly skilled work and knowledge work appears to be advancing at speed. This kind of automation demands the involvement of communities that attend the iConference community due to their focus on information and society in tandem with technology creators and tinkerers to understand the complexities and specifics, both social and technical. With the shared approach that, as Suchman reminds us, the magic and technical wonder of these systems often comes from the masking of social actors and social labor (Suchman, 2007).

Position Papers for Attending the Workshop

We ask prospective workshop attendees to prepare a short position paper to be shared with the rest of the workshop attendees. The purpose of this position paper is to communicate your interest in the workshop and discuss current research or experience in the workshop theme that you have. Position papers will be used for short presentations and introductions at the start of the workshop. Please keep your position paper to under 500 words. Position papers should include: workshop attendees names and affiliations, brief statement of interest in the workshop, and the bulk of your narrative should be your area of work or experience related to the workshop including any relevant research findings or related experience and insights. Multiple authors may submit a joint position paper and attend the workshop. We will select 3-6 of the prospective position papers that form a theme and put together an opening panel. Readings for this panel will be sent out to workshop attendees ahead of time and the authors notified so they can arrive prepared. Please submit all position papers to Matt Willis by March 5, 2018.


  1. Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age : work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Ford, M. (2016). The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. Oneworld Publications.
  3. Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2013). The Future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation? Retrieved from http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
  4. Suchman, L. (2007). Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions. In Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Susskind, R. E., & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts. OUP Oxford.
  6. UK Economic Outlook. (2017). London, UK. Retrieved from http://www.pwc.co.uk/services/economics-policy/insights/uk-economic-outlook.html
  7. Wajcman, J. (2017). Automation: is it really different this time? The British Journal of Sociology, 68(1), 119–127. http://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12239