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 argument is that management, in its decisions to automate, conspired against labor: the power that the skilled machinists wielded in the industry was intolerable to management. Noble fails to substantiate this claim, although his argument is impressive when he applies the Marxist concept of "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, digitalized "numerical control" (N/C) technology, rather than to artisan generated "record-playback" (R/P) technology.
Although both systems reduced reliance on skilled labor, Noble clearly prefers R/P, with its inherent acknowledgment 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 "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 automation is undertaken not because efficiency demands it or scientific advances allow it. But because it is a tool in the ceaseless war of capitalists against labor.
According to information in the passage, the term “de-skilling” refers to the
loss of skills that are lost to industry when skilled workers are replaced by unskilled laborers
substitution of mechanized processes for labor formerly performed by skilled workers
labor theory that automation is technologically comparable to skilled labor
process by which skilled machinists "teach" machines to perform certain tasks
exclusion of skilled workers from participation in the development of automated technology