Seminar 3pm Tues 22nd August Robots, Bots, and other Algorithms

Digital Technologies (Robots, Bots, and other Algorithms) as Substitutes for Knowledge Work: an update on two centuries of the technology vs. labor debate

Nick Berente

Terry College of Business

University of Georgia


3-5pm Tuesday 22nd August.  

University of Edinburgh Business School LT5 from

All welcome.

Karl Marx was perhaps the first well-known serious thinker about the effects of technology innovation as a substitute for labor, and it was quite a dismal view. In the subsequent century, Joseph Schumpeter updated this perspective through the process of creative destruction - essentially emphasizing the generativity of technological innovation. Creative destruction has been conventional wisdom for decades now, but in recent years some are indicating that digital is different than other forms of technological innovation. The new opportunities from digital technologies (artificial intelligence, robots, bots, and other ICT-based automation), they claim, are going to be fewer than the jobs replaced by those technological innovations. We look to the film industry - specifically the domain of visual effects - to see how these claims play out in a consumer-driven, knowledge-intensive field with intensive automation. The film industry is an ideal place to study the role of technological innovation in an industry because of rapid innovation, knowledge work, and punctuated, project-based organizing. We find that over time the role for labor in film has dramatically increased, and the domains in which automation and artificial intelligence are introduced experience the highest rate of increase. We identify a process we name "categorical expansion" to describe the mechanism through which this expansion occurs - modular elements of the division of labor in film expand, split, and multiply. Categorical expansion is a mechanism different from creative destruction, but complementary to the notion of new opportunities enabled by digital technologies.


For further information contact Neil Pollock (

Professor of Innovation and Social Informatics

University of Edinburgh Business School