Redirecting Automation Anxiety: Is Philosophy of Technology Deeply Biased and Complacent on Automation?

How automated have our philosophical responses to automation themselves become, and how much ‘automation anxiety’ is generated by this? On the one hand, engaging critically with automation can bring criticisms that one is reifying it, and anxieties that one has become a ‘Cassandra’, a ‘technological determinist’, or an ‘essentialist.’ On the other hand, engaging empirically with the complexities of automation can bring criticisms that one is ignoring global issues in favour of localised case studies, and anxieties that one has become too specialised and positivistic. This paper argues that such anxieties have to do with how philosophy of technology, following ‘classical’ and ‘empirical turn’ phases, is ill-programmed to engage contemporary technological issues that show up, like automation, as at once highly abstract and ‘transcendental’, yet empirically nuanced and ostensibly all-pervasive. What is required to meet this and give direction to contemporary anxieties surrounding automation, I argue, is a redirecting of philosophy of technology that enables us to go further in both transcendental and empirical directions, at once.

Dominic Smith is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee, Scotland. His research interests lie in phenomenology and contemporary European philosophy (Husserl, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Deleuze), philosophy and art, and philosophy of technology. He has published in each of these areas, and is currently working towards a monograph for Bloomsbury entitled ‘Exceptional Technologies: A Continental Philosophy of Technology’. His latest publications feature in the journals Philosophy and Technology and Techné.