AUTOWORK NTNU General Assembly – 24th of March 2022

On the 24th of March, 2022, AUTOWORK Project held its first NTNU General Assembly here in Trondheim at Habitat, a cozy meeting place for work gatherings and thoughts sharing. Project Principal Investigator Håkon Fyhn, Associate Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology, led the meeting, coordinated by Roger Andre Søraa, Researcher at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture (KULT), Mark William Kharas, EU Advisor at the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science, Kristoffer Nergård, Ph.D. researcher at NTNU Social Research, and Yu Cheng, Research Assistant at KULT.

The attendees include Ann-Kathrin Wortmeier, Ph.D. Visiting Researcher at KULT from the Research Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies at the University of Stuttgart, Germany; Artur Serrano, Professor at the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science; Gunhild Tøndel, Associate Professor at Department of Sociology and Political Science; Eric Monteiro, Professor at Department of Computer Science; Jens Olgard Dalseth Røyrvik, Associate Professor at Department of Social Anthropology.

We also have the pleasure of involving a few master’s students from the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture and Department of Social Anthropology at NTNU: Halvard Moe Krogstad, Nienke Bruijning, Fredrik Billington, especially Synne Svinsås Gjønnes and Gro Anita Sørskogen Stovner have also supported our project on the side of their studies. Synne has contributed to mapping literature, and Anita has focused on interviewing service and sales sectors involved with automation.

We had several updates from the attendees:

Jens has an article on conquering of technology; Gunhild’s other project—qualities of local healthcare delivery, especially quantification of the quality metrics; Anne-Katherine discussed exoskeletons and augmented reality/wearable technology in the construction field, especially timber construction, and what are the risks and benefits;

Nienke mentioned that replica AI, a chatbot used on the smartphone that’s supposed to be a friend or romantic partner. It is essential to some people now because of covid. Filled in the gap with healthcare workers who couldn’t support them, Halvard shared his experience visiting coffee shop robots in Seol, the café culture in general, and what they experienced in their interactions. Frederick talked about the implementation/use of tech in armed forces, Coastal Rangers, and mobile missile systems. Tech as a mediator of uncertainty; Synne studied AI and ethics through a company called Nora. Eric shared his experience from the computer science dept with digitalization in mental healthcare, energy/oil/gas, and social theory on tech development and use.

Building industry report

Kristoffer found that workers are very positive towards robots. Even though it’s evident that it will be more machines in the future, they’re not afraid of it. People see the positives for them. Does workers’ acceptance make work safer, easier, and more efficient? Or are they only concerned for their own jobs and not the future generation? Erick pointed out that the threat of automation has been around for decades, so their lived experience is that it’s not scary. So is the current transition continuous with previous experiences or existentially different? Jens said that tech could infringe on their autonomy and externalizes who’s in power.

Håkon further discussed that builders don’t think robots can replace them soon because they need to improvise every day, which is not currently possible with robots. But there is more hiring of people of planners and less of site workers. Also, separating planning and building—used to be much more connected. Resistance is more to tech-like smartphones to aid in adjacent aspects, e.g., ordering work clothes. BIM—Building Information Management—a digital model of a construction site. Now used to make calculations (e.g., the strength of materials, logistics, price). The use of robots on the building site can be connected with the model. We can look for conflicts between the model and the actual site.

Ann-Kathrin questioned who is excluded from the BIM, e.g., what part of the infrastructure? It’s supposed to bring all sorts of data streams/specialists together. But some groups don’t want to be included, like architects who wish more of their ideas to be secret. Also, every problem is treated as equal, e.g., a minor issue with the ventilation system is given the same weight as the big holistic vision of architects. Another resistance—modern sites should be paper-free and built directly from the model. But workers still want to use paper drawings, e.g., the touch screen doesn’t work in the cold or have to scroll it all the time. Or a worker needs to be able to change, improvise, and can’t interact with the model electronically like they can edit a paper drawing. 

Eric said that some sorts of digital twins are different, e.g., oil and gas have models of deposits based solely on models, and no one has actually been there. For example, Frank Ghery was a user adopter of BIM because the strange lines needed that computing capability. He required others to use it if ppl worked with him, and he’s such prominent people wanted to; Artur mentioned that creating a model that is the real thing, e.g., decentered and where you create a virtual space, that’s the main thing, you go to work in that virtual space.

Kristoffer indicated that automation had taken a lot of jobs, just not in the way we think. How do we conceptualize change? Some are visible, e.g., building motor as a craftperson to people in an assembly like a robot. But others happen slowly as fewer people are needed to mix cement. Automation of jobs vs. automation of tasks will gradually take away jobs, but as some functions are automated, they have other duties. Differentiation between products and services. Previously the mark of quality was identical to everything else. Whereas service quality is based on being not identical but tailored and unique.

Ann-Kathrin questioned standardization. Architects don’t want things to be standardized because they want to maintain creativity. What do we mean in life, e.g., meaning is inscribed into the technology, but workers don’t have access to that meaning because they don’t have expertise; Artur talked about identity. If things are standardized, you use a bit of your identity. You want to belong and be part of a community, but you also want to have individuality; Jens discussed what automation is. Like Heidegger, it’s actions happening without thinking. WE’re structuring the world as if automatization is like action without consideration. A drywall cutter was viewed as a promising tool more than a robot. The tool was considered beneficial because of its ergonomics—they don’t have to hunch over all the time or use their thumbs to hold the drywall in place. Boston Dynamics dog robot would save a lot of time taking photos of building sites. The hole drilling robot also helps from an ergonomic perspective.

Sale and Service

Roger talked about how sale and service work can have the consumer at the center. Human workers now have to control machines, e.g., monitor self-check-out stations. People usually use self-checkout counters if they have a small number of items. Or if they’re young. Older people don’t like them as much. More older people wanted to be able to talk to cashiers. However, cashiers had conflicting feelings. They used them when they shopped themselves. But they never really liked them as tools. They felt more alone because all they were doing was acting as a guard. They are also lonely; they don’t talk with anyone; Jens mentioned other forms of automation, like CSAs, taking out the store as an automated system. It’s about shifting job responsibilities onto the consumer. There is an interesting case: hatches in the wall of Torget, Trondheim. In the investment industry, it used to be reserved for a few; a bank would manage your money. Now anyone can buy stocks on the internet. Also, trading bots make automatic investments.

What do people think about self-checkout?

People like to use self-checkout because they don’t want to speak with people. Listen to music. Enjoy the self-checkout because it’s like playing a game. Go to whatever is the shortest queue. But trying to do the scanning during the shopping experience it’s awful; you have to think about it the whole trip. For example, in Germany, people always use human cashiers and don’t want the stress of not using the system correctly. But in Norway, where sometimes workers only go to the cashier station when a customer is there, use self-checkout not to stress the worker out.

However, sometimes it depends on what I’m buying: people want human interaction for fancier stuff. For basic stuff, people just want to get out quickly. Kristoffer has experienced a completely automatic hotel, no staff, automatic check-in, and then go to your room.

Yu mentioned that there are new shopping methods for makeup and clothes because of COVID; you don’t try lipstick on your hand anymore, but instead upload a photo of your face, and the AI will show you different makeup and clothes. 

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