The human impact of automation is of a twofold nature. It affects the physiological and psychological functioning of the individual, thus influencing social structures; it also induces a number of social and cultural changes which have repercussions on the individual. Wherever automation is introduced it leads to an important transformation of human existence in the biological, psychological and social spheres. The computer-type of automation in particular considerably affects human beings, who are more or less psychologically unprepared for changes of this kind. It may, in fact, be less harmful mentally for manual workers to have to accept new forms of mechanization which are only an extension of what they already know, than for office personnel to encounter a development which to some extent seems to menace their status by bringing it nearer to that of the machine operator. For both management and workers, serious problems arise. There is no assurance that the gains from new technology will be equitably distributed. Hardships accrue to individuals – and sometimes to large groups of workers in certain plants, industries, occupations or communities – who are displaced by technological change. The nature of the new work may be such as to create increased tension and loneliness. Management must also face problems of reorganization and adjustment of managerial personnel.
The term automation is used to designate certain new forms of mechanization of work which are progressively giving to automatic devices functions previously carried out by human beings. Three types can be characterized as: (a) the expansion of the scope of mechanization by transfer devices that link machine tools in automatic production lines and by advanced techniques of material and product handling and of assembly; (b) the rapid development of techniques of automatic control over manufacturing processes and the application of these techniques to an ever-widening range of industries; and (c) the rapid and automatic processing of an increasing range of technical and business information by the electronic digital computer, with a consequent extension of automatic control to complex manufacturing operations and commercial offices. In other words, a differentiation is made between transfer automation (also called Detroit automation), control automation, and computer automation.
The first type would seem to follow the general principles of the assembly line. The second type which is essentially based on the automatic feed-back of information into a mechanical system, can be conceived as a development of engineering devices of the sort represented by the so-called fly-ball governor in the steam engine, but it has become eminently more applicable since the introduction of electronics. The third type goes even further in replacing certain functions of the human being, in so far as it acts increasingly according to the functioning of the human brain. It can therefore be used in fields of activity which until now were only to a very small extent mechanized. A typical use is for the recording, co-ordination and analysis of information in the administrative field.