Work in progress: "Frederick Taylor Meets George Orwell in the 'Platform-Mediated' Workplace of the Future"

Greetings ,

I am an Industrial /Organizational Psychologist interested in issues of job and workplace design and labor-management.

Since Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management” revolution over a century ago there has been a tension between management and workers over control of the work process.

The emerging “platform mediated workplace” brings this tension into sharp relief as technology allows far greater control over work than ever before.

I have been writing an article on this topic and am interested in any comments or suggestions.

An abstract follows:

Frederick Taylor Meets George Orwell in the “Platform-Mediated” Workplace of the Future


Over a century ago engineer Frederick Taylor unleashed a workplace revolution known as “Scientific Management”. Taylor surmised that great increases in productivity could be realized by transferring the thought and decision making part of jobs from employees to management. Scientific management entailed breaking down work into functions and tasks and discovering the most productive way to do each job.

In his novel “Nineteen Eighty Four” George Orwell warned that mass two-way communication could make it possible to influence and control people on a scale previously unimagined Although technology was only one dimension of Orwell’s dystopian police state it was the one which cemented the powerful ideological and repressive tools into a coordinated system.

Now in the 21st century we see the rise of the “platform-mediated workplace” that combines Orwellian surveillance and control with principles of scientific management and refinements developed in behavioral science in the decades following Taylor’s work.

Whether platform-mediated work results in an Orwellian nightmare of coercion and manipulation or an arrangement that benefits both worker and business is at present an open question.


Funny, I was planning to post this elsewhere, but it is so related to your post that I’ll reply here… (though not directly on ‘platform mediated workplaces’… an interesting topic and curious to read more about it):

In the Guardian this morning I read about people having either the luxury or opportunity to completely block out the news media in There are good reasons for ignoring the news and found some interesting links in the comments section pointing to an earlier article My dad predicted Trump in 1985 – it’s not Orwell, he warned, it’s Brave New World that highlights this book by Neil Postman:

And this comparison in pictures between Orwellian and Huxlean dystopian futures:

I have posted some other article references earlier, here, here and here and these lead me to think that the dystopian regimes of the future will use a smart combination of both Orwell and Huxley.

At the leadership level you will have management platforms where you can easily define censorship rules (Newspeak) and what is considered normal (e.g. ‘A normal person works 80 hrs a week’, ‘A normal person does not question the government in any way’, etc.). These rules are then fed to the surveillance apparatus where AI’s and big data analysis take over. This is the orwellian part.
Now Huxley takes over and the gamified all-pervasive social credit system makes everyone willingly comply to these rules, or risk losing life’s virtues and ultimately getting ostracized by/from society altogether.

Brr… thinking of this makes me want to forgo the news and blissfully leave an ignorant lifestyle :slight_smile:


You need to had Debord, Society of the Spectacle, views to Huxley and Orwell one’s to make sense of what is happening nowadays!!!

The workplace in 2050 was a hot topic at my university for the last couple of years, but I found most of the discussion panels dull and short-sighted… why think about possible problems in 2050 when you have a shit load of ongoing problems in 2018!! Divide and conquer?!

As a designer I believe we need to focus on designing micro utopias… many creatives have envisioned dystopias but none has the courage to go for a utopia… well, Jaques Fresno did!! :slight_smile:

“We need to design for micro-utopias” - John Wood

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Oh but on this I fully agree. Micro utopia’s that can co-exist with current systems and that could grow and scale if they prove to be successful… growing from grassroots movements. Its what I am investigating currently as well.

Its just that when people do not act with sufficient urgency and speed, and lean back or are apathetic… then dystopia is what we’ll get IMHO. Its just trending there… We need to have optimism… and act!!

I’m so tired!!! reaching my limit for sure… I can’t even find a job that is aligned with my beliefs!!!

Have been chasing white rabbits for too long… the thing is, IMO, that underneath all this “humane” troubles all around the world - environmental, economic, food, education, etc… there is a big crisis in values and ethics… and we cannot change that as it is a very personal and introspective journey - relies on every one of us to do the right thing whenever we can.

I don’t know, anything anymore… blessed stupidity indeed!!

Hello @aschrijver Thanks for your point of view. I’m finding it interesting and thought provoking. I am new to this forum so I have to get used to the features.

Wish I could follow your thoughts??? :slightly_smiling_face:

In my profession, I develop leaders. I’m curious about your thoughts on this in an A.I. World. What day you?

Hi @PeopleEngineer! Thank you. There is no ‘follow’ feature, but you can click on the user profile icon twice and check the ‘Activity’ tab, to see recent activity.

Are you referring to the role of AI in the dystopic system I outlined?

The AI systems we currently have are not really ‘intelligent’. They are still far from Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) - the kind that can apply things learned in one context, to an entirely different context and come to new insights (similar to how humans can learn).

As you may know, our current AI systems are applications of Machine Learning (ML), and they are exceptionally well equiped to pattern recognition in enormous amounts of data (terabytes and even petabytes of it). Thus they help humans where we lose oversight and are ideally suited surveillance applications based on the enormous amounts of personal data (data points) that we broadcast to the internet on a daily basis.

They can correlate data from every Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensor, camera’s, smartphones and any other internet connected device and analyse them in (near) real-time. The raw data remains in storage (big data, ‘data lakes’) and is lying in wait for ever more sophisticated analysis and correlation of data points (currently there are still many challenges to do this efficiently, with large error rates, but technology is improving very fast).

It should be clear that authoritarian governments (or any government, for that matter), are very interested in these applications. Where at the time of the East-German Stasi huge organizations of informants and administrators were required (and much of the suppression depended on fear), these new AI systems can do much of the work without human involvement altogether, and only the most ‘interesting’ cases are handed over for human processing.

The systems can know you better than your mother knows you, or even better than you know yourself. Your day-to-day lifestyle habits, your social netwerk online and in real life, your precise location, the way you communicate, your psycho profile and emotional state. All determined from your data points, and analysed over prolonged timespans (continuous).

Suppose you become unhappy with your government or how the state operates. You meet other unhappy people, or you influence others with your discontent. Minute changes in your behavior can be detected already. It is really hard to hide if you want to do something to improve matters (and go against the will of the regime).

So that is the surveillance part of the equation. Now, with a population of millions of people, there will always be unhappy people who start resisting the rules. How do you control them? This is another realm where AI can (and does) play an important role.

With so much of our interactions occurring online, the AI systems can determine which interactions we are allowed to have. They can influence us. This can simply mean that online you do not ‘meet’ other discontented people. You do not get to see information that the government does not want you to see. As if it does not exist.

And if you still manage to find like-minded people, and there is a Social Credit system in place, then the systems can marginalize your influence. Your credit gets lowered, and personalized punishments can be dealt to you (i.e. losing societal benefits, the right to travel, black lists, etc.) to put you back in line. Not only punishments can be dealt out, but also personalized rewards (like bribes) to reign you in.

The point is: All of this occurs without human interaction, once the systems are in place. Only if these measures are not sufficient the system will spew your name to the appropriate government body for human handling. Thus a very small amount of people can control a huge population. Hence dystopia.

Hope this addresses your interest :slight_smile: