Adrian Smith: Post-Automation for Alternative Innovation

On September 22, ZIBS hosted an international symposium titled "Exploring Alternative Innovation Models from Emerging Economies: Policies and Perspectives." During the keynote address in the third session of the seminar, Adrian Smith, Professor at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School, gave a keynote speech on "‘Present Tense Technologies’ to 'Post-Automation': Alternative Perspective on Emerging Innovation Models". The following are his views:


In an era dominated by the discourse of Industry 4.0 and the allure of the fourth industrial revolution, a growing chasm emerges between the conventional perspective on automation and a more grassroots, alternative approach. This presentation strives to illuminate this dichotomy, urging a reconsideration of the predominant narrative and an exploration of alternative models for harnessing technology.


学在ZIBS丨Adrian Smith评“后自动化”:新兴创新模式的替代视角



The Conventional View of Automation

The conventional perspective on automation is deeply entrenched in the quest for heightened labor productivity and unceasing economic growth. Advocates of this viewpoint place their faith in the "three Cs" of technology: computation, communication, and control. The aim is to wield complete authority over technology, employing it as a tool for accumulating capital and enhancing managerial control over production and consumption processes.

At its core, this vision of automation aims to streamline processes, optimize labor efficiency, and drive economic prosperity. However, critics contend that this approach oversimplifies the multifaceted and intricate nature of automation's consequences for society and the environment.



Rethinking the Role of Automation

There has been a growing skepticism surrounding the ability of automation to fully adhere to the envisioned path of complete implementation and control. Extensive workplace studies reveal the intricate and nuanced effects of technology adoption. These effects range from the introduction of novel forms of labor and shifts in job roles to unforeseen environmental consequences.
The prevailing narrative often underplays the extent to which technology's impact is contingent on various contextual factors, including socioeconomic and cultural considerations. This scrutiny highlights the need to reconsider automation's role in society beyond the narrow confines of conventional wisdom.


学在ZIBS丨Adrian Smith评“后自动化”:新兴创新模式的替代视角



Emerging Alternatives in Industrial Spaces

As the conventional model of automation persists, there is a burgeoning movement in marginalized industrial spaces that is reimagining the use of technology. These alternative approaches prioritize smaller-scale production, the creation of meaningful work, and the realization of social projects. The essence of these industrial spaces lies in their commitment to social entrepreneurship, informality, and a shared aspiration to utilize technology for alternative and transformative purposes.
Within these spaces, technology is no longer a mere tool for enhancing productivity but a means to empower individuals and communities. It becomes an avenue for fostering creativity and addressing pressing social and ecological challenges.



Post-Automation: A New Paradigm

The term "post-automation" emerges as a shorthand for describing these alternative practices. It represents a departure from the foundations of automation, as outlined earlier. In post-automation, the focus shifts towards nurturing human creativity, promoting relational care work, and embracing common spaces. The essence of this approach is the development of localized, contextualized systems that prioritize sustainability over mere efficiency.
Post-automation does not seek to completely reject automation but rather aims to redefine its purpose and application. It underscores the importance of considering technology's role in fostering ecological sustainability and dignified work.


学在ZIBS丨Adrian Smith评“后自动化”:新兴创新模式的替代视角



Promoting Post-Automation

While post-automation is gaining traction within marginalized industrial spaces, its influence remains limited. It is often absent from high-level discussions and is noticeably absent from the innovation strategies promoted by international organizations. The presentation explores the pathways through which post-automation can gain broader relevance and acceptance.
One approach is the integration of post-automation practices into existing innovation institutions. By demonstrating how these practices exemplify inclusion and transformative potential, they may find a place in the reform efforts of innovation institutions. Importantly, such integration must guard against co-optation, ensuring that post-automation genuinely challenges and reimagines established norms.
Another avenue of influence lies in the realm of social movements. Ecological and workers' movements, for instance, share values and goals that resonate with post-automation principles. These movements may find in post-automation a means to push back against the enclosures of knowledge and technology, promoting a more inclusive and equitable future.
The third aspect of promoting post-automation involves a reconsideration of political economy and state ideologies. Shifting the political landscape to support the broader circulation of post-automation practices requires an alteration in political and economic structures. These changes can enable a more widespread acceptance of alternative technologies and practices.


学在ZIBS丨Adrian Smith评“后自动化”:新兴创新模式的替代视角



Fostering Democratic Deliberation

In challenging the prevailing vision of technology and advocating for post-automation, this presentation contributes to ongoing democratic deliberations regarding the role of technology in society. Rather than accepting the one-size-fits-all approach to automation, it encourages society to engage in critical discussions and decision-making processes.
The significance of examining these spaces, often overlooked and marginalized, is evident. It challenges the essentialism inherent in much of the automation discourse and practices. Questioning the status quo, regardless of how marginal it may be, is vital for contributing to the democratic deliberations that will shape the future of technology in the age of Industry 4.0. By exploring and promoting post-automation as an alternative paradigm, we can broaden the discourse surrounding technology's role in society and build a more inclusive, sustainable, and democratic future.

Adrian Smith: Post-Automation for Alternative Innovation