Christian Pentzold

Automation has momentum. Automation is a defining feature of today’s societies. Automation
converts the production of content, the distribution of information and messages, the curation
of media use, and the governance of our networked lives into machine operations. All of these
areas are increasingly shaped by algorithmically-driven processes and automated agents. They
help to automate the selection and filtering of news feeds and search engines, they attribute
relevance and popularity, perform content moderation and fact-checking. Automated agents like
social bots participate in organizational communication such as customer service and, as a
potential force of manipulation, also seem to intervene in election campaigns. As of today,
innovations in smart companions and artificial intelligence are driven by ambitions to delegate
physical motoric functions, cognitive processes, decisions, and evaluations to increasingly
autonomous and capable technology. This is not a one-way transfer from humans to machines.
Rather, we also witness environments where people come to act in an automatic fashion, where
human contributions feed into processes of automation and help to improve them.
In consequence, the special issue of New Media & Society aims to study how subjectivity,
autonomy, agency, and empowerment become defined and reconfigured in these novel
human-machine encounters. We invite contributions that take issue with the conditions and
consequences of automation and offer critical perspectives on the transition of human activity
into machine operations.