Report from the Group 2018 Workshop

The WAIM RCN held its first interdisciplinary workshop on January 7, 2018 at the biannual ACM International Conference on Supporting Group Work (GROUP), which was held at the Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island in Florida. The full-day workshop was facilitated by RCN Co-PI Ingrid Erickson along with her Syracuse University colleague, Carsten Østerlund, and University of Michigan colleague, Lionel Robert. This workshop sought to bring together people broadly interested in questions of automation and work, and asked potential participants to showcase these interests by providing challenging problems from their own research related to work at the human-technology frontier.

After a round of introductions, we identified our interests, while shared, to be quite broad. The key commonality proved to be AI’s broad array of emerging sociotechnical relationships, particularly surrounding issues of trust and autonomy with intelligent information systems in smart factories, additive manufacturing contexts, and autonomous vehicles. Participants also found common ground regarding questions of how work relates to labor (both paid and unpaid), particularly in emerging contexts like citizen science and other forms of crowdwork where humans are beginning to assist machines. Finally, we acknowledged the role of automation within online communities, both in ways that adversely accentuate insider/outsider tensions but also in ways that can assess community health.

Through a brainstorming exercise we elicited a copious amount of terms and topics related to the question of how work is and will be affected by intelligent machines in the future. This formed the basis for two series of follow on discussions--the first amongst people to try and organize emerging semantic categories as holistically as possible. In other words, they were to question themselves and their conversation partners about their own given assumptions and, in turn, their likely omissions in considering the topic. This exercise was meant to prime the following exercise, in which small groups brainstormed together to create mock proposals for funding organized around the convergent integration of topics related to work and artificial intelligence.

The workshop ended with a reflexive discussion about the difficulties of approaching complex topics like the future of work from a convergent perspective. A few pragmatic suggestions for future workshops were floated amongst the group, chief among them being the idea of having workshops in locations where no one discipline could dominate, even in terms of participant numbers if not ideology. It is clear that there is great excitement from many corners of the GROUP community about the work we are doing as part of the RCN, but less clarity about how to move beyond current interests to elicit and address more onerous, convergent problems.