DI Webinar – Sarah Fox

Patchwork: The Hidden, Human Labor of AI Integration within Essential Work

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, “essential workers” were recognized as performing the necessary labor to keep the country running. Millions of these workers are in waste industries, performing manual labor such as cleaning, garbage collection, and sorting recycling. To mitigate the risks associated with this work, there was a corresponding push to introduce automated technologies in waste industries to safeguard both the public and workers from heightened possibilities of contamination. Yet, decades of HCI research shows that the introduction of automation into workplaces is not an easy transition; instead, it often transforms and displaces existing work practices. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with waste workers, this talk will describe how these systems were put to use in daily practice — detailing the complex acts of integration performed by waste workers as they were tasked with smoothing the relationship between robotics and their organizational, social, and material environments. In doing so, it offers the concept of “patchwork:” human labor that occurs in the space between what AI purports to do and what it actually accomplishes. Expanding HCI and CSCW scholarship on the (in)visibility of work, this work argues for more holistic understandings of AI development that both acknowledges these on-the-ground contributions and works to demystify the perceived superhuman precision of AI.



Sarah Fox is an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the Human Computer Interaction Institute, where she directs the Tech Solidarity Lab. Her work investigates the social, political, and material conditions driving the deployment of AI and automation technologies within essential sectors, with a focus on how such decisions affect frontline workers. Her research has earned awards in leading computing venues including ACM CSCW, CHI, and DIS, and has been featured in Design Issues, the Journal of Peer Production, and New Media and Society. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Centered Design & Engineering from the University of Washington.


Running Order

16.00 – Welcome by Susan Lechelt

16.10 – Talk by Sarah Fox

16.40 – Q&A

17.00 – End

Limited seats at Inspace are available, please book tickets in advance.

* Please note that this webinar will be recorded *

Online via Zoom or Inspace