The changing nature of knowledge and service work in the age of intelligent machines

Crispin Coombs, Donald Hislop, Stanimira Taneva, Sarah Barnard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


One of the most significant recent technological developments concerns the application of intelligent machines to jobs that up to now have been considered safe from automation. These changes have generated considerable debate regarding the impacts that the widespread adoption of intelligent machines could have on the nature of work. This chapter provides a thematic review, across multiple academic disciplines, of the current state of academic knowledge regarding the impact of intelligent machines on knowledge and service work. Adopting a work-practice perspective, the chapter reviews the extant literature concerning changing relations between workers and intelligent machines, the adoption and acceptance of intelligent machines, and ethical issues associated with greater machine human collaboration. A key finding is that much of the research discusses intelligent machines complementing and extending human capabilities rather than removing humans from work processes. The concept of augmentation of humans and human work, rather than wholesale replacement from automation, flows through the literature across a range of domains. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the main gaps in existing knowledge and ways in which future research may provide a deeper understanding of how people (currently and in the near future) experience intelligent machines in their day-to-day work practice. These include the need for multi-disciplinary research, the role of contexts, the need for more and better empirical research, the changing relationships between humans and intelligent machines, the adoption and acceptance of the technology, and ethical issues.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Digital Technology and Society
EditorsSimeon J Yates, Ronald E Rice
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9780190932596
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Augmentation
  • Automation
  • Ethical issues
  • Human work
  • Intelligent machines
  • Machine human collaboration
  • Work-practice perspective


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