• 10.02.17-21.05.17
  • TUE–FRI 12:00–20:00
  • SAT–SUN 12:00–18:00

Take a step back and consider an automated society

Amber Case, Curator

Take a step back and consider an automated society

The idea of automation and machine intelligence is loaded with meaning, much 
of it emotional. We often ask ourselves how we could automate the most repetitive of human tasks, calling into question the need for humans in a system in the first place. Some of us fear obsolescence as humans. Others wish for more things to be automated.

In his book Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Sigmund Freud suggested “a possible future in which the magnificence of humans as prosthetic gods is tempered by the ill-fitting and troublesome nature of their auxiliary organs”. These words, written in an industrial era already filled with human-machine interactions, are only more true today, when our phones might last a couple of years before we replace them.

We live in a world increasingly automated by machines. Our relationship with them 
is often invisible. The process of automation came to the forefront of our culture with
 the dawn of the industrial revolution.
 We are now on the cusp of the second largest revolution in automation — the development of the information society. Though we may not notice them, we use bots constantly. Our search engine queries are moderated by bots. They help us sort the world’s information.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote about automation in his 1965 book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and called it “a problem whose queasy horrors will eventually be made worldwide by the sophistication of machines. The problem is this: How to love people who have no use.” Vonnegut asks how we can value members 
of a society that are now useless to the workforce.

Embedded in our viewing of this exhibition is an impulse toward an ethical stance and questions of morality. We shouldn’t just
 let these technologies fold into our lives unexamined, we ought to care about how we think about these things and develop
 an understanding of the meaning and consequences of the objects we build. Every time we say there’s something we should or should not do, it comes with a sense of morality. We see evidence. We might not take a position on it, but we are invited to question it. This is a future in which ethics are at stake, and as authors of our own destiny,
 we are advised to take a more active role
 in the creation of our everyday lived realities.


Amber Case is a cyborg anthropologist, user experience designer and public speaker. She studies the interaction between humans and computers, and how our relationship with information is changing the way cultures think, act, and understand their worlds. Amber is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a visiting researcher at the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Amber is the author of Calm Technology: Design for the Next Generation of Devices (2016). She spoke about the future of the interface for SXSW 2012’s keynote address, and her TED talk, ‘We are all Cyborgs Now’, has been viewed over a million times. Named an Emerging Explorer by National Geographic, she’s also been listed among the 30 under 30 by Inc. Magazine and featured among Fast Company’s Most Influential Women 
in Technology. In 2008, Amber founded CyborgCamp, an unconference on the future of humans and computers. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. She previously spent eleven years in Portland, Oregon where she was the co-founder and former CEO of Geoloqi, a location-based software company acquired by Esri in 2012.

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