“Social Choice in Machine Design” -- David Noble

Automated machine tools: change from analog to digital typically seen as purely technical advance

Automating machine tools requires extremely high precision since they are producing custom-made parts.

·1946-1947 GE (Schenectady) invents analog record/playback: machine records the machinist’s movements and reproduces them.

·Digital (“numerically controlled” or NC) machine tools: mathematical model of the shape converted into cutting tool commands.

1949-1959: US air force & MIT attempt NCautomated machine tools: assumption that software is trivial due to ignorance of tacit knowledge skills of the workers. 

Poor performance, not cost-effective (military spent $62 million in development alone), too expensive for small private firms. Why use it?

1946:GE suffers largest strike in its history over replacement of machinists by less-skilled workers (esp women during WWII). Analog seen as defective by management because machinists still required to record.

NC technology offered as a “management system”

·divorce control of production from shop floor (anti-union)

·1950’s anti-communism, establishment of a programming elite.

Eventually inefficient production of NC results in digital record/playback. NC machines still do not “run themselves.”

Introduction ofCNC technology in Norway: 

·worker’s rights laws required collaboration with union when introducing new tech

·all operators also trained as programmers

·programmers trained to collaborate with operators so adjustments can be made.