Technical Reports

The ICICS/CS Reading Room

UBC CS TR-77-03 Summary

Computers and the Mechanication of Judgement, April 1977 A. Mowshowitz

Computer-based information systems are playing an increasingly important role in organizational decision-making. Although high level managers are not in imminent danger of extinction, many managerial functions have been substantially altered or replaced by computer systems. These developments are viewed here as an extension of bureaucratic rationalism, the peculiar innovative spirit of large-scale enterprise. Advanced information technology in large organizations appears to promote the elaboration of hierarchically structured control mechanisms, and to further the resolution of complex decision tasks into routine procedures. Since the technology could in principle be used to support radically different modes of organization, an explanation must be sought in the evolution of bureaucracy.

Efforts to improve productivity and efficiency affect the distribution of power and authority, so that technical innovation in management raises serious ethical and political problems. Historical observations and empirical results point to a contradiction between bureaucratic rationalism and individual autonomy. This contradiction is revealed in the impact of computer applications on the conduct of certain classes of decision-makers. Policy issues are transformed into technical questions, and opportunities for exercising independent judgment are diminished as analysis of means displaces exploration of ends. I will attempt to show how this transformation is accomplished in the rationalization of functions which typically accompanies the introduction of computer systems.

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