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Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation Paperback – February 25, 1986

5.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Noble's research is exhaustive, his technical descriptions are full and understandable, and his writing is lively....This book will be a classic in the field."--American Historical Review

"A prodigious accomplishment." --The New York Review of Books

"Rich and absorbing....It is truly a definitive work and will doubtless serve to redirect research in the field."--Reviews in American History

"[Provides] superbly researched, in-depth data....This story is fascinating and well told."--The New York Times Book Review

"Pioneering work on a major development in late 20th-century history."--Lawrence B. de Graef, California State University, Fullerton

From the Back Cover

'A prodigious accomplishment. Through the depth of his research and the care of his narration, Noble has produced a detailed, gripping, and convincing work of social history, which adds detail, sinew, and emotion to our understanding of issues that are usually considered only in the abstract.'
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 25, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195040465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195040463
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #972,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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I certainly wouldn't have heard of this book if it weren't for Noam Chomsky citing it. David Noble dared to break ranks and suggest that maybe all was not right with machine tool automation. My favorite chapter,entitled "Who's running the shop" describes GE's aircraft division's "Pilot Project" in the 60's. It is first of all a damn good tale--rivaling the arabian nights as a never ending fascinating tale. Secondly, it is a sobering tale of labor-management relations. One suspects that GE management would rather the incident was forgotten. Here is a rough summary: The Air Force gave GE super-expensive numerically controlled (i.e. computerized) machining tools and local GE managers used these as a weapon to deskill workers and lower their pay, but it backfired because without the good will and understanding of the workers it produced only scrap metal at a fantastic rate. The "Pilot Project" was a compromise that enabled the incompetant management to save face, and the workers and union essentially ran the shop during this time. Understandably the union and workers wanted the pilot project to go on forever, and equally understandably the higher corporate management wanted this example of worker control to end as soon as possible even though it worked extremely well.
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By A Customer on April 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read this book as part for a course in "Philosophy and Technology" when I was an undergraduate. It is a detailed exposition of how the technologies we adopt are not inevitable, but are instead the consequence of specific choices made by specific people in power (or seeking to be in power). One of the books that fundamentally changed my worldview. Together with his "America By Design," a dull but exacting analysis of engineering education in the U.S., this book should be read as a cautionary tale for the course higher education is taking in its current romance with corporate sponsorship and collaboration. . .
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Format: Paperback
The infantilism of American culture that started with Reagan appears in many guises. For example, Ron Grossman in the Chicago Tribune pointed out last Sunday that the United States Postal Service has a stamp for Bugs Bunny but none for John Brown, the rebel of Harper's Ferry.
The Smithsonian Institution recently thought fit to exhibit Daisy's shortened Levi's from the 1970s television series The Dukes of Hazzard.
The infantilism is that the author of Forces of Production, David Noble, was a serious and pro-labor voice who worked at the Smithsonian in the 1970s and was forced out under Reagan...in favor of Daisy's shorts, it appears.
The subject of Forces of Production may seem to be specialized for overtly it is on numerically-controlled machine tools, nowadays a very small application of computers. Nonetheless this book can be read in the context, not only of machine tools but also of computerization in general.
Noble's book is an account of management folly. Machine tool automation was implemented to eliminate not the unskilled but men like my great-grandfather: machinists who had the nerve to set their own pace, and to design as they saw fit tools to accomplish their job.
The machinist occupies in the world of physical tools somewhat the same space as is occupied by the advanced programmer since the machinist has the choice, in a well-run shop, of deciding not to fashion the part that management wants, but instead to fashion a tool that will in turn make the part that management wants...faster, more accurately and in the long and short run cheaper.
Like Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital, Noble shows how this economic rationality was subverted by the high priests of economic rationality: the CEOs.
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Format: Paperback
"Forces of Production" was published in 1984 and leaves off with NC/CNC as it was in the 1970's. By then NC (Numerical Control) had transitioned to computer circuits and software and thus, the name CNC for Computer Numerical Control.

In its inception in the early 1950's it is likely that the professors and graduate students of M.I.T.'s Servo Mechanisms Laboratory named it Numerical Control because they envisioned a broader concept of social control via digital means. NC/CNC turned out not to be the path to this end; the path has been through the PC and the WWW. In view of this, I have argued that the technology should be called NDI for numerically directed interpolation because this is what it does. It directs a cutting tool to interpolate a path in the work envelop of the machine.

The book could have done better in defining interpolation - you did interpolation in kindergarten when you connected the dots in sequential order with straight lines to reveal a figure. It could have done better in explaining how Cartesian (geometric) information is processed into setpoints to position servos to cause the tool to interpolate a path in the work envelope of the machine. This explanation is central to understanding the difference between John Parson's by-the-numbers positioning concept and the much more sophisticated interpolation technology developed by M.I.T.

Our most current CNC is provisioned with spline algorithms that interpolate a curve from Cartesian points. The algorithms render curves as sequences of piecewise continuous parametric polynomials and these polynomials are sampled on a time grid to issue setpoints to position servos.
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