Journal of the Association for Information Systems


Cognitive automation powered by advanced intelligent technologies is increasingly enabling organizations to automate more of their knowledge work tasks. Although this often offers higher efficiency and lower costs, cognitive automation exacerbates the erosion of human skill and expertise in automated tasks. Accepting the erosion of obsolete skills is necessary to reap the benefits of technology—however, the erosion of essential human expertise is problematic if workers remain accountable for tasks for which they lack sufficient understanding, rendering them incapable of responding if the automation fails. Though the phenomenon is widely acknowledged, the dynamics behind such undesired skill erosion are poorly understood. Thus, taking the perspective of sociotechnical systems, we conducted a case study of an accounting firm that had experienced skill erosion over a number of years due to reliance on their software’s automated functions. We synthesized our findings using causal loop modeling based on system dynamics. The resulting dynamic model explains skill erosion via an interplay between humans’ automation reliance, complacency, and mindful conduction. It shows how increasing reliance on automation fosters complacency at both individual and organizational levels, weakening workers’ mindfulness across three work task facets (activity awareness, competence maintenance, and output assessment), resulting in skill erosion. Such skill erosion may remain obscure, acknowledged by neither workers nor managers. We conclude by discussing the implications for theory and practice and identifying directions for future research.




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