Automation characterises a system (an “automatic” system) that has fixed choice points, that is it is programmed with a number of fixed alternative actions that are selected by the system in response to inputs from particular sensors (e.g. a light beam on a lift door, if it is cut then the door won’t close as it is assumed that the beam is blocked by a person or an object) or user actions (e.g. a person pressing the “3rd floor” button sends a signal to the lift computer “3rd floor” and lights the “3rd floor” light in the lift).  The lift computer evaluates these choice points independently of the current circumstances (e.g. how full the lift is, how many people are waiting, or the cost of electricity at that time of day).

Exploring the lift example further consider a bank of lifts in a building. Pressing the “up” button in the ground floor lobby calls the lift, and it responds in the same way irrespective of the number of people waiting. A single person going from the 3rd to 4th floors (they could easily use the stairs!) receives the same priority as 10 people waiting at ground level to go to the 5th and higher floors, so the lift stops at the 3rd floor just for one person. As humans we accept this unintelligent, “black box” approach and do not expect or seek any decision-making from such systems.  Nor do we seek explanation of how they operate, as their inherent simplicity allows us to readily comprehend their actions, trust them and to rarely question their operations, even if we consider them to be “stupid”.

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