Panel and book launch of The Eye of the Master: A Social History of Artificial Intelligence by Matteo Pasquinelli (Verso, 2023)


Historical Materialism Conference
Birkbeck Malet Street campus, London
10 November 2023, 14:15-16:00


The panel investigates the spectrum of automation theories and technological transformation with a focus on AI as the last stage of the automation of manual, mental, and care labour. Authors like Benanav (2020) relativize the impact of AI on employment and emphasise deindustrialization and stagnation tendencies, while Pasquinelli (2023) centres the valorisation process of platform capitalism and AI monopolies around a new discipline and metrics of labour. As Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora (2019) have pointed out, the project of AI and automation in generalI remains grounded on the ‘surrogate humanity’ and invisible labour of enslaved, workers, and women that have made possible the universalistic ideal of the free and autonomous (white) subject.

The panel invites to explore and question a deep historical perspective spanning the theories of automation of the industrial age (Adam Smith, Babbage, Marx, William Thompson, Thomas Hodgskin), the Time and Motion Studies from United States and Soviet Union’s Taylorism (Gilbreths, Gastev, Biomechanics movement), the labour process theory debate (Braverman, Noble), the positions of Autonomist Marxism (Tronti, Negri, Mezzadra), and more recently communisation theory (Endnotes). The panel engages also with the historical epistemology of science and technology (Hessen, Grossmann, Kula, Damerow, Renn, Rheinberger, Schaffer, Daston, Galison, Omodeo, Schmidgen) and feminist and decolonial epistemologies (Rose, Harding, Fox Keller, Haraway, Federici).

Recent machine learning models, based on statistical techniques of correlation deploying billions of parameters, have marked the passage to a new paradigm that could be defined as the ‘automation of automation.’ The rise of Large Language Models (LLMs) has shown how the project of abstracting language via statistical analysis ultimately operationalised a key feature of the human qua ‘political animal’. In this regard, LLMs extend the automation of division of labour from task management to the sphere of social mediation.


  • Automation theory in historical materialism.
  • Historical epistemology of labour, technology, and science.  
  • Sociology of labour and management from Taylorism to AI.
  • Dialectics of technological innovation and social antagonism.
  • Abstract labour between Hegelian and Marxist interpretations. 
  • History of metrics, metrology, and measuring instruments of labour.
  • Metrics of labour and nature in the Anthropocene. 
  • Knowledge automation and extractivism in the age of Language Models.
  • Machine translation and linguistic work. 
  • Automation in education and learning.


  • Senthil Babu (French Institute of Pondicherry, India)
    “Measures of Labour and the Machinery of Calculation:
    Three Case Studies”
  • Paolo Caffoni (HfG Karlsruhe, Germany)
    “Machine Translation as a Technology of Bordering”
  • Leonardo Impett (Cambridge University, UK)
    “The Industrial Automation of Aesthetics in Machine Vision”
  • Matteo Pasquinelli (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, Italy)
    “The Labour Theory of Automation from Babbage to AI”
    A presentation of The Eye of the Master: A Social History of Artificial Intelligence (Verso, 2023)