What does it mean to have agency in an increasingly automated world?

Today, businesses increasingly look to “intelligent” technology to enhance their value. Organizations seeking competitive advantage invest in AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics that aim to take humans “out of the loop,” optimizing and automating everything from business intelligence to customer engagement to personal style. But human agency is not disappearing with such advances; it is evolving and reconfiguring. The value proposition of these new technologies still requires deep humanistic perspectives.

EPIC2019 will focus on human agency in this new age of automation. We will explore what it means to have opportunity, choice, and influence, and the ways in which agency is exercised in an increasingly complex world. We will discuss how models of human behavior and culture shape new spaces of opportunity and risk. When agency is reduced to automation, what gets left out? When machines make business decisions, what is the impact on human agency? How can human agency can be enhanced by design?

We will gather in Rhode Island, a center of the first American Industrial Revolution, to gain deeper insights about agency, evaluate the implications of our choices, and explore strategies to position ourselves as agents of change. And at a time when human-machine interfaces permeate every aspect of business, we will extend our cross-disciplinary collaborations with technologists to address the agency of humans and machines as their capabilities are augmented and entwined. We invite ethnographers and technologists of all backgrounds to advance the value of our work through the prism of agency at EPIC2019.