Technology in the Service of the People: Automation as a Means of Reducing the Change Pressure from the Oil Industry


A set of short but punchy reflections how technology can be reoriented to serve the people. Written in Norway. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.

1. The oil debate is the recent stage of the EEC issue.

1) The EEC decision specified a path for development of Norway. Follow through work is slow in following the decision - the investment of money time and human creativeness must be made to meet the challenge. Or the decision becomes less vital.

2) It is from the point of view of this follow through that the case for more or less automation of the oil industry, its off shoots, and other industry and enterprises must be decided.

2. A hidden and direct control is exercised by the buyer of Raw Materials:

- by manipulating price and the norwegian imports needed to maintain export-import balance.

- gifts to Africa enable buying from Norway to support norwegian industry is also a vulnerable means of maintaining norwegian non-oil production.

Norway needs insulation from uncontrolled dependence on foreign decisions.

1) Recent oil price changes, evolved for political and profit reasons by the OPEC states and the large corporations have effected Norway and other countries. The lesson is evident.

2) Uncontrolled dependence on foreign decisions is likely to be destructive.

3) State control of Norwegian oil helps to prevent foreign control of Norway, but to the extent that Norway invests a critical amount of her capital, and human resources in oil - intentionally or indirectly - Norway becomes vulnerable to decisions made elsewhere.

4) It is usual for large countries to manipulate smaller by creating economic situations that make it necessary to line up with the other EEC countries in a joint centralist protective action.

5) To the extent that we depend on import from foreign lands for our primary and secondary commodities - and they will be "cheaper" from abroad we are at the mercy of foreign decisions. One cannot hope for complete independence but measures to design the degree of control from outside are to be valued.

6) If we allow creative human resources and growth & development capital to be sucked from the primary and secondary Norwegian industries to oil we are trapped. The reduction in jobs in the primary and secondary industries is because already they are relatively underdeveloped.

7) Subsidising primary and secondary industry so that they can stay alive in ancient from is not the equivalent of decentralization active development. Relatively to oil - the overclass industry itself demands not a competitive change but a total change in developmental direction - support decentralist technology.

8) Delaying the crisis of values by automating the oil and other industries in a centralist way will prevent public pressure and rob the people of decision potential until change back is impractical.

9) This has been the technique in automating industry. With such automation covering the industrial capital changes, Norway can become a centralist bureaucracy more silently.

10) An example is its trade with Africa, of necessity this trade will be between central government and large corporations using what amount to indirect government subsidy of these operations. This silent subsidy to big industry has been the tradition in the so called "Aide Countries".

11) Decentralist indigenous area trade is likely to best serve local needs for local production, self support skill development and pride in good decision making and responsibility. This is as true in Africa as it is in Norway.

3. Norway must stop urbanization and centralization or be its victims:

- it must strengthen its local communities and the practical meaningfulness of their values and decision making - there lies Norway's unique strength

- over balanced development of tertiary industry leads to control by the few, and irresponsibility of the many.

1) The effects of urbanization and centralization has been increase in goods and services - those that can be bought and sold; but has not always meant increase in personal or group wealth (the capacity to fulfill one's own or the group's values).

2) The lack of development of a decentralized technology has made development in agriculture, fishing and such primary occupations - an investment in subsidized maintenance of personally unrewarding life style usually unrelated to more local self determination.

3) Alienation of the young has been because of the more interesting, less routine life, (as advertised) for the urban area - where more entertainment is available.

4) Young people if given an opportunity to be creative and productive locally do not need to be drugged with consumer goods that primarily entertain, or educational services unrelated to practice except in the city.

5) This entertainment and education by consuming goods and services rather than by producing ultimately does produce rage and destructive acts of "entertaining" aggression.

6) An active program for strengthening local communities requires that local people be helped to find ways to mechanize, automate etc. tasks they find meaningless and unrewarding. With this beginning familiarity with technology - and local discussion, help with local invention from those who had "specialist" advantage begins to be more than a phantasy. It might then be possible to create a decentralist organization of technical resources.

7) The development of new kits for home building of tool and tool making machines needs human and financial capitalization.

4. Decisions about automation and Data Systems must be made by those who are being changed in their way of life by those decisions.

1) A sense of responsibility comes from having one's decisions meaningfully affect what occurs, in a way that is apparent and correctable.

2) To gain the experience necessary for vital decisions tools must be designed with a kind of tolerance to human improvisation not found where efficiency does not include learning to make the tool better. Without such tolerance the use of the non-expert is guaranteed. Often this capacity is reduced out of an aesthetic called simplification - for the stupid user.

3) The stupidification of the wage worker and his loss of skill has accompanied the old line of automation.

4) A fresh kind of participant relation with the larger productive tool - industry - cannot occur if the worker is only able to effect his salary, the quality of his work - both already set in a slot pre-arranged by decisions over which he has only the most indirect control.

5) As systems get bigger, more expensive, more centralized and more automated the wage earner can only experiment with controlling his wages and work conditions. The rest is too bulky and delicate, and must be protected from error.

6) The kind of automation in a plant must become the decision of those being automated. The design of that automation must to an increasing degree be controlled by the values of the workers rather than by those few whose responsibility are exclusively financial.

7) Financial necessities have been created by bookkeeping methods and taxing systems that actively obscure the real community costs - often apparent to the worker. These hidden costs do not become apparent the life of the community threatened. The community then must make very expensive decisions often too late.

5. Automation and Data Handling techniques can be used to reduce strain on the employment style in Norway, but improper use will only hide the next generations of consequences.

1) It seems simpler to introduce more automation rather than importing foreign workers to Norway. But foreign workers provide an obvious problem; while automation makes the problem more silent - until this problem solution creates its problems.

2) Each problem solution creates new problems; we can not hope to choose the direction that these generations of problem - solution - problem development will likely take us. The auto for example was introduced in part to reduce pollution by horses of the well traveled streets.

3) Technology can be designed to support various values systems. If this flexibility is not utilized technology will continue to serve only those whose values allow them to accumulate the capital necessary to buy technical service. The habit of creating only centralist supporting technology and profit oriented consumer goods has reached so deeply into the technologist thinking and public demand that even conceive of a technology that serves central/decentral balance seems phantasy. Yet the requirement are easily designed.

4) Public dissatisfaction and criticisms of present technological directions space, military, atomic energy, super factories and supertankers, super trawlers, super beaurocracies - banks etc. is emerging.

5) The hidden costs of super size described as - economy of scale - but often actually simplification of power and control by entrenched centralism, are becoming apparent. These hidden costs once simply peripheral to ordinary bookkeeping must now be actively hidden.

6) The rapid automatic of the oil industry, and reduction of employment in primary and secondary industry with the growth of more tertiary industry as capital gravitates to profit - will at first bring a well advertised prosperity, for what is prosperous will be new and thus newsworthy. But the depletion of human and land resources may be hidden by the rise in consumerism.

7) Pride in skillful automation and the capital it brings to those who automate may serve to hide the political and human changes this developmental path produces.

8)Professionalism can serve to maintain awareness of the problem within the professional ranks with false reassurance to the public until the situation is expensive to remedy.

6. Historically Automation & Data Handling increased production and human benefits, but now the human cost of the old line of technical development are showing. We are at a crossroads like the fat persons food covers other problems and produces unhealthy instability.

1) There are those people who need consumer goods, basic goods but presently are unable to pay for them. This frustration, and others, has been used to justify increasing production of waste goods and their psychological sale. Consumerism becomes an end in itself, and as the fat person eats to hide his real needs, so such wasteful production of goods that are made costly by their entertainment - on - purchase style, hides real necessity. For those whose value do not include the entertainment and cover up value of commercial goods there is beginning to be a revulsion from consumerism.

2) The price rightly paid for mass production and freedom from pre-industrial deprivation of the many, is too heavy to pay for the delights of consumerism. Industrialization required initial centralization and monopolization to capitalize its development. In return for losing the control he had a craftsman or a farmer, or fisher, the worker was given wages to buy some portion of the goods he created. He was willing to give up control over what he produced how, where, and with what consequences in return for the ability to buy his needs.

But now automated industry can produce enormous amounts of goods with little distribution of wages - using instead capital manipulation to finance automation.

3) The social structure is radically changed by this development.

4) The problem of the abundance that can be produced has been avoided by waste, military and non military destruction and misuse of resources and mans productive labour.

5) The problem of starvation in the midst of relative abundance and distribution of productive potential speaks of a basic confusion in our ways of operating. It is not a problem that will be solved by subsidising starving people only.

6) Rapidly pressing forward the technical reevaluation can only bring disaster if its real contradictions are not grasped and used to construct new directions.

7. The creators of technology must take the responsibility to know the costs of their creative activity, and to design so as to reduce the present damage and increase the human benefits of technology.

1) The opinion of those involved in actual production, distribution and use of goods and services has been made increasingly irrelevant as specialists in order to simplify central organization have fragmented information about the consequences of a particular group's labour, into unfamiliar categories.

2) Likewise engineers increasingly work with fragments often unaware of the human consequence of their assembled creations. Each technical person or group must now take responsibility for the consequences by controlling the development of his fragment - for this is his source of power.

3) Without the results of automation and data handling development modern industrialization would not have the growth that has created the need for oil and the other products from the continental shelf. Those who have been critical in developing the oil problem must take a responsibility for its human consequences by assessing their own work in this light.

4) But the old line of thinking of human consequences as an engineering responsibility leads to "human engineering" and "expert" social planning - the engineering by the few of better life styles for the many. This direction increases centralization by bureaucracy and often constitutes hiding the real costs of removing responsibility skill and the power that creates responsibility - from the mass of people.

5) Engineers who would reduce the gap between "experts" by education and license - professionals, and the "experts" by experience without centralization, can at least begin to design machines that make expert user participation and skill meaningful. Machines that exclude user intelligence and skill increase the gap between the professional few and those who serve such machines.

6) Design in terms of human benefit is unrealistic unless those who design find a way of knowing intimately the actual degree of benefit derived among those who share the consequences of the machine production.

7) Design in terms of human consequence as expressed by those effected who in turn directly participate in design requires a different set of values than is the habit among engineers - or than is financially supported at present.

8) Turning a large proportion of engineering attention to the automation of the oil industry would serve to prevent the decentralist line of development now necessary.

9) The engineer must protect his time, energy and financial resources from overload with obsolescent work. The system has operated by keeping the professional so overloaded that he has not had the time to consider the social effects of his work - or to design with a larger perspective than that for which his services have been purchased. Thus common sense problem solving is denied while wasteful service is made available to whomever has the most powerful control over the "economy".

Only control of the availability/use of the raw materials one processes, in this case intelligence & knowledge, can be used to access real wealth - the satisfaction of one's own and one's unique group values.

8. Huge production by Automation with a few people in the control rooms is unprecedented:

1) Automation and data handling systems have already produced production services automated from order blank to delivery of the items ordered.

2) Huge production with few human participants is becoming common.

3) Such production system changes - like the introduction of the railway or the steam engine has powerful impact. How can such total impact be represented so that it can be grasped by the many people rather than in the private professional language of the few, isolated from the experience of those effected by the change.

4) It is only through awareness, study adequate representation and control that the disruptive influence of rapid social change can be accommodated without extreme stress on the population taking part in these changes. Here lies the theme of our times - more important than automating the problem away until the next set of consequences erupt. The people must begin to chose themselves which future they will have. Such participation is called decentralism and implies a reduction in the social stress through small group initiative.

5) Such decentralism reduces the pressure on the production population but is contrary to the direction supported by traditional automation and Data Handling techniques.

6) These technologies if given a decentralist direction can help to solve the problems they, and their mode of use have created.

7) It is only as balanced centralism/decentralism is valued and politically pursued by the many - that decentralist institutions and technologies can be created with the priority that will provide a follow through to the series of decisions best exemplified by the EEC decision.

9. The new line of technical development must support high productivity with human engagement rather than alienation.

1) Sonar, typewriters, sewing machines, electric saws, community tool loan systems, community freezers - as well as local freezers, recycling of waste, such are some examples of commonly perceived decentralist advances. Much is known but little is taken seriously. Who has the time, energy or money.

2) It is only as engineers and those already skilled as technical innovations provide an example and encourage decentralist technology that the larger public can escape enforced consumerism.

3) Present schools and educational services do not take seriously serving their communities' technological needs - this is private business, except as a hobby.

4) The development of decentralist technology is most likely where power to decide - what automation? machines? Etc.? What capital shall be used to create what products? distributed how? - has been returned to the worker. This has begun with the new laws giving workers power to participate in management decision.

5) Awareness that the tools of production are built to distribute more or less decision making power to the worker is beginning.

6) Machines that remove decision power from the worker, or store his best decisions to govern other workers destroy individual initiative and skill development. The few are promoted to become controllers by automation - though they may receive no reward for teaching the programmers how to do their job "better" without their participation.

7) Machines are being built according to values: the values of those who control the designers by paying for their work.

8) As disloyalty and alienation increase more automation becomes beneficial to those who wish to continue the centralist direction. Automatic factories with a few well paid employees are less likely to go on strike and require illegal aggressive acts to stop their production. But centralist automation is easily damaged by those who are against the values it implies. Policing is necessary.

9) Increasing polarization places production in an unstable condition and reduction of production with increasing cost is used to create artificial scarcity and to return the population to a condition of poverty where cultural rights must be given up for obtaining the necessities.

10) It is possible to create necessities that will require the use of unbalanced centralist power: Uncontrolled expansion of technologies that are highly centralist, requiring specialist delicate handling to prevent obvious disaster - ensure the control of centralism for its own sake. Atomic energy/oil production are both extremely dangerous to the community if raw material is spilled. Such plants might be protected by the military in times of unrest.

11) Such politics of technical and industrial development need to be carefully considered in decision making. This is particularly true in an era where terrorist destruction of centralist facilities in order to mobilize political forces, can be enormously damaging to the whole community.

12) It is this interpenetration of social political and technical considerations that makes balanced decentralism a meaningful direction to pursue with high priority rather than simply automating oil production and related industries.

What may at first seem theoretical is in our times necessary and practical though challenging.

10. Bureaucratic caretaking, planned mass consumption and services, technocratic social control must be reduced by increasing the production of tools that increase personal, family small group and local development of self support production.

1) The vision of utopia continuously changes as it begins to be achieved. The social-scientist technocratic heaven has lost its charm. This dream of plenty includes people living without using their backs and their hands and their inventiveness to create their own security.

2) Isolation from undue central control can best be achieved when a degree of local self sufficiency exists, and when this local engagement gives an experienced perspective with which to make decisions about the relation to both larger and smaller groups.

3) Tools that provide a measure of self sufficiency cannot be produced if capital, intelligence, human resources once demonstrated move to the higher paying central city, or central schools or place of richer challenge.

4) Self Support systems must be balanced by mutual support with control of the mix being continuously reviewed in terms of the effect on the achievement of those values the Community chooses - or the individual or larger community chooses.

5) The conflicts will be less when freedom from scarcity is not the desperate companion of search for power, as is the case in the ethic of consumption.

6) There is already available in Norway a background for personal family small group development of production potential. It is the example of those who value this potential and give it priority that will mobilize community creative forces.

11. The new line of technical development can significantly support the decentralization direction and the politic of balanced decentralization/centralization.

1) Those who see decentralization as opposed to centralism - without realizing their unity will find that it is not possible to support decentralism by central means. This contradiction is only true if we conceive of the world as idealistically black or white. In reality Central support of enriched decentralism is necessary to the survival of both.

2) Every advance in social or mechanical, or automatic tools has amputated a part of man's life as well as providing rewards. This cost can controlled only as people perceive this contradiction and understand that they must chose the payment with the prize.

3) At this time the payment for a more decentralist way of life is not so apparent as the cost of centralism for its own sake. The costs would soon be apparent, if both centralism and its opposite decentralism were not pursued simultaneously with careful control over the balance.

4) If centralist control and automation of the oil industry were combined with heavy investment and priority given to the development of much increased participation, engagement and decentralism in the primary and secondary industry a balance could be struck. This balance would greatly reduce the strain on human resources that the development of oil would produce.

5) Heavy investment of persons and time and finance in both oil and in decentralist technology would mean reducing the speed at which the oil industry would grow, for the brakes would be higher satisfaction with home and local industry.

12. The costs of this new line of technical development cannot be met out of funds donated for R&D those agencies/corporations who benefit more by centralization and will lose the power of "the select few" (even an idealist selects few), when decentralism increases engagement and participation in technical and political decisions.

1) There are in Norway strong political force supporting decentralization. There is a demand for strengthening self support and for cutting out overbearing central bureaucracy.

2) The means of producing this change are not clear to the many people who wish it. They see only anarchy as the opposite of centralist order.

3) It is with the same intensity and learning that the follow through of the EEC decision must be made. It would be wise to for those with power who are wishing for the development of citizen participation to make their policy one of forcing public debate and decision using the oil question as the real decision field to be engaged.

4) Public engagement with the issues they see as meaningful must be supplemented by detail work. Decentralist technological technique must be demonstrated. Exemplary projects planned, and communities that have the most chance of success given the financial support they need. A central plan for decentral strategy is a contradiction but carefully thinking will allow the contradiction to create a raw technological and social direction that supports the will of the people as expressed in the EEC decision and the debate that brought awareness.

5) Much decentralist experience exists but will not manifest itself until the enthusiasm of actual power to change is manifest. There is no reason to merely provide symbolic branch office decentralism and thereby to temporarily reduce the opposition to increasing central power. Automation can make such branch office decentralism possible or can serve decentralism of a deeper kind.

6) The time lag required - the build up time necessary to develop a program of decentralist technology could be reduced if popular support of the program were encouraged by increasing the decision responsibility of workers in the factories, stores, etc. where they work. The redistribution of power must go hand in hand with the development of local responsibility for the use of funds to create more local tools of production. This provides a way to avoid the forced consumerism implied by increased importation of goods in return for oil.

7) This line of technology acknowledges the real interpenetration of technology and politics; they can no longer be meaningfully separated except where consequences are to be disregarded 'for the time being'.