Ironies of automation

Relevant to the deep history thread: Deep History of Automation

I really enjoyed reading this text recently:

Bainbridge, Lisanne. ‘Ironies of Automation’. Automatica 19, no. 6 (1 November 1983): 775–79.

Readable here:

It’s 30 years old but carries the kind of grown up thinking we really need around automation and human-computer collaboration right now. I’d love to hear what other people think about it.


Thanks for sharing @yaxu! It’s amazing how even after 30 years, it’s line of argument is still super applicable to the failures in human-computer interactions that have caused recent air accidents for example.

This may be a non-grown up cliché reaction, but when making art with a human-computer system some of the best results I’ve ever seen have been from failures and catastrophes. There’s something dramatic and beautiful about creating a runaway monster, and then trying to wrestle or interact with it (some of my favorite live coding performances that I’ve watched have had an element of this, moments almost verging on a loss of control). Or having a “camouflaged system failure” hidden by “automatic control” sneak up on someone. Or even just witnessing a simple failure of communication, watching something break, can be a moment of great emotional honesty.

In a sense, I guess I’d argue both the paradox and the ironies are artistic weapons and assets, in a way they are I’m guessing not when designing a power plant or a commercial airliner.

So when I read papers like this, it makes me want to figure out a compelling way to perform a catastrophic failure of human-computer collaboration…

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