Management Automation
Manav Raj, Robert C. Seamans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0172


Since the first decades of the 20th century, there has been concern that automation, including mechanization, computing, and more recently robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), will take away jobs and damage the labor market. There has also been concern that large, dominant firms will capture whatever value is created by automating technologies. In an effort to understand these issues, a wide variety of scholars have studied automation. Automation has been studied at a number of levels, including country, industry, firm, occupation, and even the occupational-task level, and by a range of disciplines, including economics, innovation, management, organizational theory, sociology, and strategy. This annotated bibliography attempts to include a range of literature that speaks to these different levels and different disciplines. It includes articles that are older, foundational pieces so readers can familiarize themselves with the major work in the area, as well as more recent articles so readers can get a sense of current research interests and opportunities. Notably, much of the recent research is focused on the effects of AI and robotics on workers, firms, and the economy. It is likely that there will be a large increase in research in this space in the coming years, especially as more data on the adoption of these technologies becomes available, and that this research will tell us much more about how these technologies are affecting our economy in the 21st century as well as inform our understanding of automation more generally.

General Overviews

Automation is not a new concept, as innovations described by Mokyr 1992, such as the steam engine or the cotton gin, can be viewed as automating tasks that were previously done in a manual fashion. This section highlights work that takes a historical view of automation, and describes the effects of automation on firms, workers, and society more generally. Keynes 1930 is an early perspective considering the consequences of automation, while Leontief 1983 presents potential opportunities and consequences posed by automation. Current technologies may have the potential to automate certain non-routine tasks, whereas in the past more rote tasks have been subjected to automation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2011 thus explores the extent to which the current wave of automation, including digitization, AI and robotics, might be different.

  • Brynjolfsson, E., and A. McAfee. Race against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Lexington, MA: Digital Frontier Press, 2011.

    In this book, Brynjolfsson and McAfee specifically examine the effects of the digital revolution on productivity and the labor force. They note that digital technologies have increased productivity and collective wealth. However, because these innovations are largely general purpose technologies, parallel innovation in complementary assets and resources is needed to fully harness productivity gains.

  • Keynes, J. M. “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.” In Essays in Persuasion. By J. M. Keynes, 321–332. London: Macmillan, 1930.

    Keynes famously worried that automation would mean his grandchildren would inherit a world in which people work fewer hours and earn lower wages, thanks to technological unemployment. Keynes defined technological unemployment as “unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.”

  • Leontief, W. “National Perspective: The Definition of Problems and Opportunities.” In The Long-Term Impact of Technology on Employment and Unemployment. Edited by National Research Council, 3–56. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1983.

    Leontief, observing the dramatic improvements in the processing power of computer chips, worried that machines would replace people, just like internal combustion engines replaced horses.

  • Mokyr, J. The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195074772.001.0001

    Mokyr argues that technological creativity is one of the main determinants of economic progress. Mokyr presents a historical account of technological creativity to argue that such creativity leads to economic progress, even if it disrupts labor and existing organizations. For example, the Second Industrial Revolution led to the replacement of sailboats by steamboats; however, it produced new jobs for humans even as it diminished existing jobs such as sailor.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.