In Forces of Production, David Noble examines the
transformation of the machine-tool industry as the industry
moved from reliance on skilled artisans to automation.
Noble writes from a Marxist perspective, and his central
(5) argument is that management, in its decisions to automate,
conspired against labor: the power that the skilled machin-
ists wielded in the industry was intolerable to management.
Noble fails to substantiate this claim, although his argu-
ment is impressive when he applies the Marxist concept of
(10) "de-skilling"-the use of technology to replace skilled
labor-to the automation of the machine-tool industry. In
automating, the industry moved to computer-based, digi-
talized "numerical-control" (N/C) technology, rather than to
artisan-generated "record-playback" (R/P) technology.
(15) Although both systems reduced reliance on skilled labor,
Noble clearly prefers R/P, with its inherent acknowledg-
ment of workers' skills: unlike N/C, its programs were
produced not by engineers at their computers, but by
skilled machinists, who recorded their own movements to
(20) "teach" machines to duplicate those movements. However,
Noble's only evidence of conspiracy is that, although the
two approaches were roughly equal in technical merit,
management chose N/C. From this he concludes that auto-
mation is undertaken not because efficiency demands it or
(25) scientific advances allow it, but because it is a tool in
the ceaseless war of capitalists against labor.
1. The author of the passage is primarily concerned with