Noble, D. F. (1979). "Social choice in machine design: The case of automatically controlled machine tools" in A. Zimbalist. Case Studies in the Labor Process. New York, Monthly Review Press.


Technology is not deterministic but social choice has a big effect on which technologies are adopted. Technology bears the "social imprint" of its authors. If follow that "social impacts" issue not so much from the technology of production as from the social choices that technology embodies. Technology, then, is not an irreducible first cause; its social effects follow from the social causes that brought it into being".

The choice of which technology to develop is a product of the key players, interests and influences present at the adoption decision. Noble uses the example of the decision to use numerically controlled machines over tape driven machines.

In machine tools, the first viable system was "record-playback", where a machine recorded the skilled machinists actions on one part and then reproduced the same movements for successive parts. The other solutionwas numerical control developed at MIT for the Air Force.

Record-playback still required the skills of the machinist, but NC moved the skill to the programmer. MIT got the Air Force to specify parts in NC nomenclature and the Air Force spent money to put 100 NC machines in factories of prime subcontractors. In short, the Air Force created a market for NC. Likewise, the software that controlled the machines became standardized with the air force's needs, not the machine shops, in mind. NC removed the conception of the machinist and put it inside the machine. It fit with the overall drive to centralize decision making authority.

In reality, NC didn't live up to its expectations, an it's initial use didn't bring higher productivity or lower costs. Deskilling didn't take place as expected either, though for the same reasons. Machines still require human maintenance and setup.