Have you ever considered just how much more labour-intensive virtually everything in life would be if everything had to be physically done by hand? Think about it: everything would have to be made by hand, connected by hand, delivered by hand, and cost more in labour as well as take longer to make. Thankfully, although we are not that far removed from this totally hands-on world, it is not something that we have to consider. The process of going from totally hands-on to mostly hands-off didn’t happen by magic, it is all part of the process that is today’s word, automatization.
Naturally, this word has its basis in associated words, with the actual root word automaton, coming from the Greek autos and matos and literally meaning ‘a self-thinking or self-acting machine.’ Interestingly, though we have come to associate the word with robotics and mechanical ideas, the initial definition of the word revolves around social sciences and psychology, where it means the replication of a certain behaviour or reaction without conscious thought (aka motor programs). Still though, whether we are talking about operating a human body or operating a factory, we are dealing with the concept of actions taken without the need to individually think about them.
While the concept of automatization can find its roots in any labour-saving device and was first truly recognized in the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, the idea first begin to gain notoriety when US automaker Ford established a full-fledged automation department in 1947. Given, this automatization process with automakers actually started with the application of the moving assembly line in 1910, but, by establishing a full department, automotive manufacturers were demonstrating that efficient, time and labour-saving machines were worth the time and developments costs. Considering that a typical car contains about 5000 spot welds and machines can work 24/7 with only periodic maintenance, it is easy to see how efficient production can save on manufacturing costs. How effective were they? Though there are a number of variables, looking at raw production figures, Ford and Chevrolet combined to produce 1.1 million vehicles in 1947. By 1955, that figure had reached 3 million, and, by 1965, it was 4 million.
The first known use of the word comes from Alfred Barratt’s 1869 work Physical Ethics, where, using the initial definition, he explains that: “These different combinations of pleasures and pains,..the higher of which are the results of automatization of reasoning, form the different emotions.”
A 1902 issue of Pacific Monthly provides the first mention of the term with our modern usage, stating: “The wonderful achievements of America’s industrial leaders—this marvelous systemization, automatization, if you will, of methods,..this process of unifying..and labor-saving which characterize these methods.”
Finally, for all of the production benefits, Ramona Hernandez, in her 2002 work The Mobility of Workers Under Advanced Capitalism, reminds us of the often-overlooked human element, noting that: “In the process of mechanization, automatization,..and profit hunting, hardly anyone is free from the threat of being sent to the unemployment pool.”
And 15 years later the threat is defined as high as the possibility of half of all workers performing jobs at high risk of potential automatization.