Algorithms in the Margins: Organized Community Resistance to Port Automation in the Los Angeles Harbor Area

  • Taylor M Cruz
  • Jaewoo Park
  • Emily Moore
  • Austin Chen
  • Andrea Gordillo


Public deliberations on artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) provoke strong interest in automation, or the perceived displacement of human labor due to general technological advances. Social science scholarship on well-compensated technology workers and a growing global underclass suggests automation remains largely a myth, with emerging technologies generating new forms of computational and emotional work. But little research has examined automation from the vantage point of community members at perceived greatest risk of displacement, such as those sustained by generations of logistics labor and physically located in racialized, underserved areas. In the United States and around the globe, logistics work is directly targeted by “automation engineers” to reduce labor costs on behalf of industry interests, posing a severe threat to port workers and their respective communities. This article examines organized community resistance to automation within the Los Angeles Harbor Area, drawing on four public hearings following the Port of LA’s planned integration of autonomous vehicles for the movement of cargo (i.e., automated straddle carriers). We find community mobilizations widely sought to enlarge public consideration of AI/ML to encompass matters of societal well-being and the collective good. These include shifting from the legality of AI integration to underscore public morality in light of anticipated harm, in addition to emphasizing the invisible social arrangements surrounding the Port and nearby community life. Our research reveals how lay people may reassert their own importance when confronted by technoscientific injustice, such as by reframing the future of work toward an insistence on “the future of our communities.”


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22 Apr 2024
Original Research Articles