From the English textile mills and the New England factory towns of the Industrial Revolution, to the modern steel and automobile plants of America, Europe, and the Soviet Union, to the contemporary production of mobile phones and sneakers in China and Vietnam, the way we make the world–and are ourselves remade in the process–has radically changed.
The relations between industrial production and societal impact have long been a controversial subject, where arguments for increased efficiency and productivity are countered by narratives of workforce exploitation, class warfare and environmental degradation and depletion. Following the advances of the steam engine, the assembly line, and computer-controlled automation, today the fourth industrial revolution is driven by cyber-physical systems incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. Industry 4.0, as it has come to be called, incorporates methods of self-optimization, self-configuration, self-diagnosis, and human-machine collaboration in increasingly complex and autonomous work processes. Yet as the transition from mass production to mass customization unfolds, new and different challenges emerge ranging from workers’ rights, labor regulations and workforce development to data privacy, security and environmental impacts. This seminar will survey the changing dynamics between manufacturing, labor, technology and society from the Industrial Revolution to the present.