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Automation is both the name of a work process ( automation ) and its work result (automated objects). The term automation serves at the same time to characterize economic-technological development phases ("age of automation") and is also the subject of socio-political discussions, especially philosophical debates through to artistic processing.


The term “automation” has Greek roots with the meaning of “moving itself” ( ancient Greek αὐτόματος automatos ). Automation systems are therefore able to independently solve tasks or problems of a constant or changing nature. The solutions to the tasks or problems are to be understood as the desired “goals”.


In a narrower sense, automation characterizes the intrinsic endeavor of systems to achieve goals through independent or independent (autonomous) action , to follow changing goals, to form and maintain goals or, when goals are achieved, to develop activities to stabilize the system despite existing disruptions.

Examples of automation:

  1. according to DIN V 19233 defined as "equipping a facility so that it works as intended in whole or in part without human involvement."
  2. the conversion process of a company to technical production systems for independent production with the exclusion of human labor. The state of complete automation is referred to in business administration as automation,
  3. the combination of recurring functional sequences in electronic data processing into macros or new program functions , for example in word processing, image processing or in geographical information systems . The configuration process is also automated with the unattended installation .

If machines are used in a manual work process to carry out physically strenuous work, it is a matter of mechanization , whereby the process flow is still controlled by humans. In contrast, with automation , the process sequence is also controlled by machines (automatic machines), and humans monitor the overall automated process and carry out the non-automated process steps.


Windmills with a fixed tower and a fixed tower hood
Windmill with rotating tower hood - automation of the rotation by an additional wind turbine with gear

The concept of automation goes back to ancient Greece , where the goddess Automatia (Greek: αυτοματια, which comes by itself) was worshiped and chapels were consecrated.

At the same time Aristotle formulated politics in his work :

"If every tool at the behest, or even anticipating that could do him rightful work, such as the Daedalus art moved by itself, or the tripods of Hephaestus of my own accord to the sacred work went when so Weber vessels woven by itself, would require neither for the foreman of the assistants nor for the masters of the slaves. "

The preservation of the spirit of antiquity and the transfer of knowledge from the Arab world ( mathematics ) enabled sciences such as physics to flourish again during the Renaissance .

In 1745, the English blacksmith Edmund Lee invented an early automation device that allowed windmills to turn independently in the wind. According to records from ancient times , there were machines that were driven by a wind turbine and did work that had previously been carried out by humans or animals. In the Middle Ages , people started to build windmills so that they could be rotated around a vertical axis. The windmills were steered in the direction of the wind by muscle power so that they would not stop working. Lee's invention, an additional wind turbine with a gearbox , allowed the machine to react independently to changes in its environment as was necessary to carry out its task.

In addition to windmills and windmills , there were also water mills and water wheels .

With the advances in mechanics and new drive technologies such as the steam engine , the age of industrialization dawned. Mass production in factories became possible. Animal and human strength became increasingly replaceable by engines .

In 1787 Edmond Cartwright first used automatic looms , the Power Looms he had developed himself . They were the first automatic machines for industrial production. Cartwright himself failed economically with his weaving. But his inventions prevailed and had far-reaching social effects. From 1811 onwards there were revolts of weavers in England who were directed against the machines. The machine attackers smashed machines and attacked their supporters. The uprisings were put down by the military and participants were executed or banished. There were similarly motivated uprisings in Switzerland. The protests, known as the weavers' revolts in Germany, were not directed against the new machines, but against foreign workers and suppliers.

The discovery of electricity and inventions of electrical engineering (19th century) enabled the decentralization of production , it became possible energy over long distances to ship. First attempts were made to use electricity for measuring, controlling and regulating .

The Taylorism tried (largely) successful, rational and efficient production methods to establish ( Line ), and changed the world of work. The efficiency of work continues to increase - up to a certain point - but has always been at the expense of the physical or even mental health of employees throughout history. Monotonous work led to exhaustion and alienation of the worker from his work and repeatedly stirred up conflicts between employees and employers, since productivity increases and wage compensation were sometimes grossly disproportionate.

In the 20th century, automation with the refrigerator as the successor to the refrigerator expanded to private households . The heating was automated by thermostatic valves .

Innovations in electronics , especially the development of transistors , led to the drastic miniaturization of electrical circuits . With the dimensions, the effort for the application of switching algebra decreased . The development of integrated circuits ultimately meant that devices could be equipped with logic without great effort . The digital technology was the preferred means of automation. Advanced field devices ( sensors and actuators ) communicate with the control or regulation and ensure a constant quality of the products even with fluctuations in the process.

The computer technology pioneered a technological development that lead to a general improvement in degree of automation in production with industrial robots , fully automated production lines or techniques such as pattern recognition in artificial intelligence lead. As a result of automation, jobs are often lost in production. A historical example of this is the layoff of workers at the American telephone companies, in which a large number of telephone operators lost their jobs due to the introduction of the automatic dialing system.

Todays situation

In the factories of industrialized countries , goods are largely manufactured by machines, and the role of humans shifts from production to administration, planning, control, maintenance and services.

Many simple (but also dangerous, monotonous or high demands on accuracy or speed) activities can be carried out largely automatically by machines with the help of automation technology, which is usually much more productive .

At the same time, people have to acquire and consolidate their qualifications in simulators , since automated production systems should not be interrupted or learning by doing is not possible or associated with dangers (e.g. power plant or flight simulators).

In 2015, German-Swedish researchers calculated that automation computers could take on every second job.

The spokesman for the Chaos Computer Club , Frank Rieger , warned in various publications (e.g. the book Arbeitsfrei ) that the accelerated automation of many work areas will lead to more and more people losing their jobs in the near future (e.g. truck drivers by self-driving cars ). Among other things, this poses a risk of weakening unions that are losing members. Rieger therefore advocates a "socialization of the automation dividend", that is, taxation of non-human work, so that general prosperity also grows and is fairly distributed as the economy grows. According to Rieger, the introduction of an unconditional basic income could also be a solution to the social problems resulting from the automation of the world of work (lecture at re: publica 2015).

Through artificial intelligence , machines are increasingly penetrating work areas that were previously only occupied by people with high qualifications. Stephen Hawking says : The future will tell whether the machines will take control at some point. But what is already clear today is that machines are increasingly displacing people from the labor market. One example of this is machine translation such as Google Translate or DeepL . Another example is the artificial intelligence IBM Watson , which won the 2011 quiz Jeopardy against the two most successful players to date. The machine is today u. a. used to help doctors diagnose diseases. Watson lawyers can also assist with legal research. Today (2016) machines can also recognize and understand language (see speech recognition ), search for answers to questions asked and provide answers in natural language. In a greatly simplified form, this is u. a. used in smartphones z. B. with Siri , Google Now , Cortana and Samsung's S Voice .

What is automation

Reasons for automation

  • Increase in throughput or production volume
  • Relief of the person from heavy physical or monotonous work
  • Saving of personnel costs
  • Improvement of product quality
  • Uniformity of product quality
  • Reduction of defective production (important in processes with many manufacturing steps)
  • Improvement of the picking and production processes
  • Safe and efficient design of material flows

Main areas of automation

The core areas of automation are the monitoring , control and regulation of processes. Depending on the type, this involves checking the proper operation of process systems, target-oriented adherence to a desired process status despite the disruptive effects of the environment, or the implementation of specified or alternatively selected process sequences.

Some types of automation systems can also be equipped with an adaptive behavior , especially the control systems . Adaptation enables such systems to adapt their behavior to changes in their environment. This ensures that the intended behavior is guaranteed to be of the same quality as possible, even under slowly changing conditions.

Automation also enables the implementation of self-optimizing systems . In this case, the desired goal cannot be specified a priori, but results indirectly as the extreme value of a performance parameter using a non-linear criterion. The functionality in this case consists in approaching this goal by generating goal-oriented pendulum movements and then adhering to it or achieving a changed goal when the environment changes.

Still other automation systems are characterized in that they consist of several competing sub-systems with diametrically opposed objectives of their own. The automatic behavior then consists in the effort to achieve and maintain an a priori unknown balance .

In the course of further development, much more demanding problems were solved on the automation side. This primarily concerns the automation of problem-solving processes . In this case, the person acts as the client for such machines, delegating frequently changing orders to them, whereby he also specifies the goal to be achieved. The goal here is the required problem solution. He then leaves the execution of these mostly complex tasks completely to the commissioned machine, which then not only has to act automatically, but now because of the a priori unforeseeable environmental conditions, must act independently .

The limits of the possible uses of automation have by no means been reached. Automation systems take on more and more complex tasks and tend to become more and more "intelligent". In the course of this development, there have long been solutions that have the ability to learn - both with and without instruction. These learning automation systems contain a so-called metal algorithm, which enables them to learn and prepares what has been learned in a ready-to-use manner. The goal is then the learning objective .

Take advantage of automation

Automation systems distinguish themselves from exclusively human-operated systems in that, in the standard cases, they relieve these activities that have to be carried out repeatedly or under unpredictable conditions, often of a formal-logical nature and, alternatively, carry out these activities without fatigue and with consistent quality. More sophisticated automation systems completely relieve people of complex action processes in the sense of services and do them in their own way.

The substitution of work performance by machines can free people from tiring formal-logical or dangerous activities, but on the other hand this leads to the release of workers . In other cases, people are supported by machines by making their work easier, increasing their safety or even increasing their comfort during existing work. Automation thus makes essential contributions to general progress.

Automation as a special form of information technology

The interaction of the machines with the respective processes creates interactions, whereby information is exchanged. On the one hand, this information relates to statements about the process status or instructions about process interventions to be carried out. The machines can also obtain information from the environment via appropriate sensors . A variety of communications take place with it. The information obtained is processed into new information in the subsystems in accordance with the task. Automation systems thus have the character of information systems .

Automation with technical means

If technical means are used to solve such tasks, they are automation systems . In this case, in addition to the process, automation systems contain automata that are executed in a certain technology as a further subsystem. Depending on the type of automation task, these machines are referred to more specifically in appropriate cases as process monitoring, control or regulation devices, which are built up from typical functional units of automation technology. The facilities required for process optimization, however, are called optimizers .

Automation as a cross-sectional discipline and part of cybernetics

Automated behavior is found not only in the control of technical processes, but also in a large number of natural systems of the most varied of character. It is therefore a universal form of behavior. Automation therefore belongs to a discipline that has a cross-sectional character . Cybernetics forms the overarching theoretical basis .

Action orientation: categorical imperative of automation

Because of the fundamental influence of automation on society as a whole and because of its cross-sectional character, appropriate action orientations are necessary. Based on the categorical imperative of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant , a specific categorical imperative for automation was published:

Always automate so that the maxims of your will and action are subject to the principle of general humanism, i.e. H.

  • use automation to free people from strenuous physical and mental (routine) work,
  • increase the effectiveness and productivity of human activity through automation,
  • advocate a humane use of the increase in effectiveness and productivity, such as is achieved through automation and
  • avoid inhumane effects of automation in individual and social areas.

Automation application areas

Automation is finding extremely diverse applications that are constantly expanding. To illustrate the current range of services in this discipline, here is a selection of characteristic examples that relate to the main areas of application:

  • Regulation of the temperature and, if necessary, the humidity in living and working spaces with regard to defined setpoints to ensure a permanent feel-good atmosphere for people,
  • Constant monitoring of processes, systems, rooms or outdoor systems with regard to the occurrence of defined events with automatic triggering of actions (e.g. issuing alarms, switching on lighting and, in the event of a fire, sprinkler systems, messages to responsible persons or control centers, etc.),
  • Regulation of the body's own parameters (body temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar, balance, etc.) for the constant maintenance of our vital functions,
  • Independent operation of cleaning or mowing robots to free people from time-consuming activities,
  • Program-based control of multi-level processes in washing machines to relieve people of a frequently performed and time-consuming activity,
  • Course control of aircraft using autopilot on long-haul flights as well as constant monitoring of the surrounding airspace for possible collision risks to relieve the flight captains,
  • Ensuring effective automobile production through the use of a number of program-controlled industrial robots as well as a consistently high quality of products through the use of different automation processes,
  • Realization of an improved safety standard in the car through a number of integrated, automatically working assistance systems, exemption from frequent or complicated activities (e.g. through automatic transmissions or parking machines) and - in the near future - independent chauffeur in autonomous vehicles,
  • Self-optimization of wind turbines in real-time operation in order to maximize the electrical power that can be obtained from the prevailing air flow,
  • Intelligent, independent management of the ecological energy sources that can be used to meet demand in self-sufficient residential units,
  • Establishing and maintaining a state of equilibrium in ecological systems, consisting of several populations of natural beings with their own objectives,
  • Independent deburring of repeatedly supplied castings with different types of burrs by problem-solving work robots to relieve people of heavy work,
  • Independent navigation of transport drones to deliver urgently needed medicines or spare parts to remote areas in the shortest possible time,
  • Independent control of the movements and actions of personal assistants for the execution of delegated services of varying types for the disabled,
  • independent control of the movement of autonomous diving robots for the purpose of searching waters or ocean depths with automatic reappearance,
  • Independent execution of demanding missions with different tasks (autonomous docking maneuvers, independent lowering of a space capsule, execution of work orders for robots, etc.) in space and on planets close to the earth.

As these examples show, automation has made many useful contributions in very different fields of application. In doing so, it continues to make essential contributions to general progress, which in one way or another should benefit humanity.

Automation in humans

Comparison between controlled and automated action

A central characteristic of all well-mastered complex skills of a person is the extensive automation of the underlying sub-functions. This is illustrated by the example of the acquisition of reading skills: so that a reader can fully devote himself to the actual sense of reading, namely the extraction of meaning, all underlying tasks that create the conditions must run in the background, so to speak, without conscious information processing capacity in form attention must be directed to them.

At the lowest level, for example, in the visual area, there is the decoding of characters . If even this level of reading perception is not automated, it absorbs attention, so that the capacities for the actual task of reading, extracting meaning, are no longer sufficient. This loss of efficiency naturally affects the processing speed with which a text is passed through and will at least make itself felt in a decrease in reading fluency.

The American scientists Shiffrin and Schneider published the opposite comparison of controlled and automated information processing back in 1977. According to Warnke, this model also serves as an explanation for the fact that in students with dyslexia certain automations that have been developed in other students according to their age are lagging behind. When processing your information, you have to resort to cognitive , conscious processes more often than the creditors .

Representations of automation in art

Cartoon : The technical innovations in reporting at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin and a forecast for the year 2000. Olympia special issue, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, 1936.

In the movie:

In the literature:


  • Kraftwerk : The Human Machine , Kling Klang 1978

Film documentaries

See also

Integrated circuit


  • Walter Benjamin : The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility . Edition Suhrkamp, ​​1983, DNB 102489374X .
  • Horst Völz : Computer and Art. Akzent series, Volume 87. Urania-Verlag, Leipzig; Jena; Berlin 1990. 2nd edition, ISBN 978-3-332-00220-1 (with drawings by Klaus Thieme).
  • Henning Tolle , E. Ersü: Neurocontrol - Learning Control Systems Inspired by Neuronal Architectures and Human Problem Solving Strategies. Springer, Berlin; Heidelberg; New York; London; Paris; Tokyo; Hong Kong; Barcelona; Budapest 1992, ISBN 978-3-540-55057-0 .
  • Ingo Rechenberg : Evolution Strategy '94. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 978-3-7728-1642-0 .
  • Werner Kriesel , Hans Rohr, Andreas Koch: History and future of measurement and automation technology. VDI-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1995, ISBN 3-18-150047-X .
  • Harro Kiendl : Fuzzy control method-oriented. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich; Vienna 1997, ISBN 978-3-486-23554-8 .
  • Rolf Dieter Schraft , Alexander Verl , Ralf Kaun: Automation of production - success factors and procedures in practice. Springer, 1998, ISBN 3-540-63861-X .
  • Martin Polke ; Günther Schmidt (Ed.): Special publication 50 years of automation. In: atp-Automatisierungstechnische Praxis, Vol. 51, Issue 8, Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2009, pp. 21-40.
  • Reinhard Langmann: Pocket Book of Automation. 2nd Edition. Fachbuchverlag Leipzig by Hanser Verlag, Munich / Leipzig 2010, ISBN 978-3-446-42112-7 .
  • Jens von Aspern: PLC software development with Petri nets, IEC-61131-coded high-speed networks (turbo networks). VDE Verlag, 2003, ISBN 3-8007-2728-5 .
  • Berthold Heinrich, Petra Linke, Michael Glöckler: Basics of automation - sensors, regulation, control . Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden, 2015, ISBN 978-3-658-05960-6 .
  • Tilo Heimbold : Introduction to automation technology. Automation systems, components, project planning and planning. Specialized book publisher at Carl Hanser Verlag, Leipzig / Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-446-42675-7 , e-book ISBN 978-3-446-43135-5 .
  • Jan Lunze : Artificial intelligence for engineers - methods for solving engineering problems with the help of rules, logical formulas and Bayesian networks. de Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-11-044896-2 .
  • Matthias Martin Becker: Automation and Exploitation - What will become of work in digital capitalism? Promedia, Vienna 2017, ISBN 978-3-85371-418-8 .
  • Karsten Uhl : A long history of the "deserted factory". Automation visions and technological change in the 20th century, in: Marx and the robots. Networked production, artificial intelligence and living work, ed. v. Florian Butollo u. Sabine Nuss, Berlin: Dietz 2019, pp. 74–90.

Web links

Wiktionary: Automation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: automate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Ursula Hermann, Knaurs etymologisches Lexikon , 1983, p. 61
  2. Wolfgang Weller : Automation technology at a glance. What is, what can automation technology do? Beuth Verlag, Berlin / Vienna / Zurich 2008, ISBN 978-3-410-16760-0 , pp. 5–29, and as an e-book.
  3. DIN V 19233: Control technology - process automation - automation with process computer systems, terms . German Institute for Standardization V.
  4. ^ Martin P. Nilsson: History of the Greek Religion . Volume 2, Verlag CH Beck, Munich, p. 301.
  5. Egon Gottwein (arrangement): Cornelius Nepos: Timoleon. Retrieved June 21, 2009 .
  8. ( Memento from July 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  9. Frank Rieger, Constanze Kurz : Arbeitsfrei: A journey of discovery to the machines that replace us .
  10. Frank Rieger: Robots have to secure our pension . In: FAZ , May 18, 2012.
  11. Hilal Kalafat: Physicist warns against artificial intelligence. In: Handelsblatt . 3rd December 2014.
  12. Stephen Hawking warns against artificial intelligence ( memento from July 18, 2015 in the web archive ),
  13. Watson goes to work.
  14. Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing legal advice. (No longer available online.) In: Strafjournal. Archived from the original on April 13, 2016 ; accessed on April 13, 2016 .
  15. a b Review: "Arbeitsfrei" Computerwelt, because time is money , report at , from October 12, 2013 (accessed on: October 12, 2013)
  16. IPH - warehouse automation. Retrieved February 6, 2018 .
  17. IPH - warehouse automation. Retrieved February 6, 2018 .
  18. Hans-Joachim Zander : Control and regulation as basic functions of automation. In: Control of Discrete Event Processes. Novel methods for describing processes and designing control algorithms. Springer Vieweg Verlag, Wiesbaden 2015, ISBN 978-3-658-01381-3 , pp. 1–15, e-book ISBN 978-3-658-01382-0 .
  19. Heinz Unbehauen : Control engineering . Vieweg + Teubner, Wiesbaden, 3 volumes: Volume 1: Classical methods for the analysis and synthesis of linear continuous control systems, fuzzy control systems. 15th edition. 2008, Volume 2: State controls, digital and non-linear control systems. 9th edition. 2007, Volume 3: Identification, Adaptation, Optimization. 7th edition. 2011.
  20. Wolfgang Weller : Learning controls. Verlag Technik, Berlin and Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-486-29231-5 .
  21. ^ Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski : Computer science and automation. Volume 1: Theory and Practice of the Structure and Organization of Information Processing. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1976.
  22. ^ Frieder Nake : Computer science and the machinization of mental work. In: Wolfgang Coy et al. (Ed.): Perspectives on computer science. Vieweg Verlag, Braunschweig 1992, pp. 181-201.
  23. Horst Völz : That is information. Shaker Verlag, Aachen 2017, ISBN 978-3-8440-5587-0 , pp. 4–10, 333–356.
  24. ^ Heinz Töpfer , Werner Kriesel : Functional units of automation technology - electric, pneumatic, hydraulic. Verlag Technik, Berlin and VDI-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1977, 5th edition 1988, ISBN 3-341-00290-1 .
  25. Lars Bluma: Norbert Wiener and the emergence of cybernetics in World War II - a historical case study on the connection between science, technology and society . Lit Verlag, Münster 2005, ISBN 978-3-8258-8345-4 .
  26. Werner Kriesel : Future models for computer science, automation and communication. In: Frank Fuchs-Kittowski , Werner Kriesel (Hrsg.): Computer science and society. Festschrift for the 80th birthday of Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski . Peter Lang Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften - PL Academic Research, Frankfurt am Main / Bern / Bruxelles / New York / Oxford / Warszawa / Vienna 2016, ISBN 978-3-631-66719-4 , pp. 427-428, ISBN 978-3 -653-06277-9 (e-book).
  27. ^ W. Schneider, RM Shiffrin: Controlled and automatic human information processing: 1. Detection, search, and attention. In: Psychological Review. Volume 84, 1977, pp. 1-66.
  28. ^ Werner Zorn : Music and Computer Science - Building a Bridge. Typescript, version March 25, 1988.
  29. Harro Kiendl , Tatiana Kiseliova, Yves Rambinintsoa: Fuzzy interpretation of music. Dortmund University Library, Dortmund 2004.