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Mike Cooley (born 1934) is an Irish-born engineer and former trade union leader, best known for his work on the social effects of technology and in particular 'Socially Useful Production' and 'Human Centred Systems'. He is also known for his involvement in workplace activism at the British company Lucas Aerospace in the late 1970s[1]. In 1981, he was a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award[2]. Cooley was born in Tuam, Ireland, and attended the Christian Brothers School and was classmates with Tom Murphy (playwright) and the trade unionist Mick Brennan. He was an apprentice at the Tuam Sugar Factory and later studied engineering in Germany, Switzerland and England[3] gaining a PhD in "Computer Aided Design".

Mike Cooley
Michael Joseph Edward Cooley

1934 (age 84–85)
  • Engineer
  • Trade Unionist
  • Author
Known for
  • Labor activism in the 1970s
  • The Lucas Plan
  • Peace Activism
  • Human-centred Systems
  • Socially useful production
  • Greater London Enterprise Board
AwardsRight Livelihood Award (1981)

Cooley has held several leadership positions in the field of computer-aided design and was active as an advisor on numerous public and private sector projects. He was founding president of the International Research Institute in Human Centred Systems (IRIHCS)[4], and the international Journal AI & Society and founding director of the Greater London Enterprise Board. He has published over 100 scientific papers as well as fifteen books, and has been a guest lecturer at universities in Europe, Australia, the US and Japan[5]. His seminal work "Architect or Bee?" has been translated into six Languages.

According to Cooley ""Scientific and technological developments have invariably proved to be double-edged. They produced the beauty of Venice and the hideousness of Chernobyl; the caring therapies of Rontgen's X-rays and the destruction of Hiroshima,"[6]


The Lucas Plan: 1970'sEdit

Towards the end of the 1970s, Mike Cooley was a designer at Lucas Aerospace, and chaired the local branch of the technical trade union TASS. He was one of the militant activists behind The Lucas Plan,[7][8] a radical strategy to avoid workforce layoffs by converting production at Lucas from armaments to civilian products[9].

The vision of the plan was to replace weapons manufacture with the development of socially useful goods, like solar heating equipment, artificial kidneys, and systems for intermodal transportation[10]. The goal was to not simply retain jobs, but to design the work so that the workers would be motivated by the social value of their activities. As Cooley put it "the workers are the experts”[11]. The proposals of the alternative plan were not accepted by Lucas management, and Cooley was dismissed in 1981,[12] allegedly because of excessive time spent upon union business[13] or "concerns of society as a whole".[14] Following his sacking by Lucas he was appointed Technology Director of the GLC and later founded[15] the Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB).[12]

According to Cooley ""Scientific and technological developments have invariably proved to be double-edged. They produced the beauty of Venice and the hideousness of Chernobyl; the caring therapies of Rontgen's X-rays and the destruction of Hiroshima,"[16]

Architect or Bee: 1980Edit

"The alternatives are stark. Either we will have a future in which human beings are reduced to a sort of bee-like behaviour, reacting to the systems and equipment specified for them; or we will have a future in which masses of people, conscious of their skills and abilities in both a political and a technical sense, decide that they are going to be the architects of a new form of technological development which will enhance human creativity and mean more freedom of choice and expression rather than less. The truth is, we shall have to make the profound decision as to whether we intend to act as architects or behave like bees." Mike Cooley[17]

In 1980, Cooley published a critique of the automation and computerisation of engineering work under the title Architect or Bee? The human/technology relationship. The title alludes to a comparison made by Karl Marx, on the issue of the creative achievements of human imaginative power.[18], On the Sanctity of Work: 'A bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of its cells; but what distinguishes the worst of architects from the best of bees is namely this. The architect will construct in his imagination that which he will ultimately erect in reality. At the end of every labour process, we get that which existed in the consciousness of the labourer at its commencement.'

According to Orlando Hill[19] "Mike Cooley’s Architect or Bee? put the case that a new organisation of technology could provide social good rather than profit." He goes on to say: "Cooley argues that if we are going to move from merrily producing commodities to producing goods that people need and want, we must change our attitude towards technology. The technology used today evolved from the concept of the division of labour. In a capitalist system in which the maximisation of profit is the sole objective and people are regarded as units of labour-power, the division of labour and fragmentation of skills is absolutely rational and scientific. However, the consequence is the deskilling of workers and alienation from reality. A division between theory and practice is created with a bias towards theoretical knowledge. The skill and practical knowledge of the worker is despised."

Mike Cooley's pioneering work on human-centred systems and socially useful production was compiled and first published by Shirley Cooley, Mike's wife, in 1980 (Hand & Brain publications); the second edition was published in the USA in 1982 by South End Press with an introduction from MIT Professor David Noble and was followed by a new edition published by Hogarth Press in 1987 with an introduction by Anthony Barnett. The current edition was published by Spokesman Books in 2016 and has an introduction by Frances O’Grady the General Secretary of the TUC[20]. The book has been translated into over 20 languages[21] including Finnish, Irish and Chinese.

Socially Useful ProductionEdit

In 'The Shape of Future Technology'[22] Mike Cooley asserts: "One of the most remarkable features of modern industrial society, is the gap between that which technology could provide for society (its potential) and that which it actually does provide for society (its reality). We have for example, complex control systems which can guide a missile to another continent with extraordinary accuracy, yet the blind and the disabled have to stagger around our cities in very much the same way as they did in mediaeval times."

The Right Livelihood Award; 1981Edit

Mike Cooley was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1981 for "designing and promoting the theory and practice of human-centred, socially useful production."[23] In his acceptance speech, Mike Cooley noted "Science and technology is not given. It was made by people like us. If it's not doing for us what we want, we have a right and a responsibility to change it."[24]

Human-centred systemsEdit

In Architect or Bee?, Cooley coined the term "human-centred systems" in the context of the transition in his profession from traditional drafting at a drawing board to computer-aided design.[25] Human-centred systems[26], as used in economics, computing and design, aim to preserve or enhance human skills, in both manual and office work, in environments in which technology tends to undermine the skills that people use in their work.[27][28]

See in particular; Human-centred systems by Mike Cooley; Chapter 10; Designing Human-centred Technology: A Cross-disciplinary Project in Computer-aided Manufacturing; Springer-Verlag London 1989; Editor: Howard Rosenbrock; ISBN 978-3-540-19567-2

In the 2008 paper "On Human-Machine Symbiosis" Cooley asserts "Human centredness asserts firstly, that we must always put people before machines, however complex or elegant that machine might be, and, secondly, it marvels and delights at the ability and ingenuity of human beings. The Human Centred Systems movement looks sensitively at these forms of science and technology which meet our cultural, historical and societal requirements, and seeks to develop more appropriate forms of technology to meet out long-term aspirations. In the Human Centred System, there exists a symbiotic relation between the human and the machine in which the human being would handle the qualitative subjective judgements and the machine the quantitative elements. It involves a radical redesign of the interface technologies and at a philosophical level the objective is to provide tools (in the Heidegger sense) which would support human skill and ingenuity rather than machines which would objectivise that knowledge".[29]

The Human Centred Systems Book Series published by Springer-Verlag, London is a useful resource.[30]

Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB): 1982Edit

Ken Livingstone and Mike Cooley[31] founded the Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB) in 1982, which was an industrial development and job creation agency set up by the GLC to create employment by investing in the industrial regeneration of London, with the funds provided by the council, its workers' pension fund and the financial markets. During the first two years of the enterprise board's existence the Greater London council provided a total annual budget of around £30 million, made up of some £20 million section 137 funds and £10 million section 3 mortgage loan facilities. Frank Dobson in Hansard Noted in 1985 when GLEB can under threat of closure “The Government are not worried because the GLEB has been a failure; they are worried because it has been a success.”[32]

"When the GLC was abolished in 1986 the Board became an independent company, changed its name to Greater London Enterprise (GLE) and became reliant on its own income to fund its activities. Profits from GLE's commercial activities were reinvested in delivering not-for-profit activities."[33]

AI & Society (Founding Chairman): 1987Edit

Mike Cooley was also the founding chairman of AI & Society, which is now a major international forum for socially responsible technology. The journal has been running since 1987 and focuses on ‘societal issues including the design, use, management, and policy of information, communications and new media technologies, with a particular emphasis on cultural, social, cognitive, economic, ethical, and philosophical implications’ (Springer, 2018).

In his paper "Architect or Bee? Mike Cooley: the human spirit" Karamjit Gill editor or AI & Society noted: "It was during the summer of 1981, at a summer school at the University of Sussex, that I was introduced to Mike Cooley’s seminal book, Architect or Bee? The Human/Technology Relationship, edited by Shirley Cooley. A revised version of the book came out in 1987 under the same title but with a new subtitle that reflected the far-reaching impact of technology on society: Architect or Be? The Human Price of Technology (Cooley, ibid). This seminal work remains at the heart of the evolution of AI&Society."[34]

Delinquent Genius: The Strange Affair of Man and His Technology : 1992 (Published 2018)Edit

Delinquent Genius: The Strange Affair of Man and His Technology by Mike Cooley with a foreword by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland explores the relationship between mankind and technology development (technological progress)[35]. The book analyses the social impact of technology[36] and the dangers of accepting the "one best" scientific idea of progress[37]. The book was written in 1992 but not published until 2018.

According to Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland: “Delinquent Genius is simply brimming with insights. It traces the sources of technology and its application. It is, above all else, a brilliant account of a dangerous hubris which can lead to that which is instrumental becoming a source, a dangerous source of domination, of passive rather than active existence... I believe the publication of this book must be seen as an invaluable contribution. What is particularly moving in it is that it takes all of these issues that have been raised in different fora, and in different ways and locates them in a biographical experience of a brilliant scholar. There is something immensely hopeful in this, the sheer power that comes from retaining one’s early curiosity, harvesting it through scholarship, and delivering it for the benefit of mankind.”[38]

According to Adrian Smith, Professor of Technology & Society at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex; In the book, Mike looks at "vantage points for realising neglected human purposes – such as creative work and environmental sustainability – through technology. Looking at the same picture from different angles yields surprising results. Each of the book’s short chapters takes different vantage points to look upon a period of intense restructuring in the industrial manufacturing landscape, whose effects are still felt today."[39]


Film, Radio and TelevisionEdit

In 1983 Mike was featured in “Farewell to Work?” produced for Channel Four by Udi Eichler of Brook Productions. On-screen participants include André Gorz, Patrick Minford, Claus Offe, Mike Cooley and the discussion is chaired by Robert Hutchison. The film “argues that the current technological revolution will virtually eliminate the manual working class by the end of the century and permanently displace jobs. He proposes working towards a future in which free time is sustained by a guaranteed minimum income. He argues that in this future, production should be confined to those goods which are essential (not determined by the market place) and that people should use their freedom in pursuit of satisfying and autonomous activities. His views are countered by the other guests.”[40]

Mike also features prominently in German filmmaker Harun Farocki's Wie Man Sieht (As You See, 1983), which examines the emergence of computerisation and its repercussions on military and managerial uses of innovative technology, rather than for the solution of social problems and the amelioration of human lives.[41]

Mike’s work was the subject of the TV documentary “Look, No Hands!” in 1988 made for the Equinox Channel Four documentary series. Directed by Christopher Rawlence and produced by Debra Hauer[42]. The film was shown as part of season 1988, Episode 12, on Oct 9, 1988[43] and also produced as a VHS video.

My Education by John Quinn was an RTE radio series[44] and book published by Town House in 1997, ISBN 9781860590726. The book is a set of Biographical interviews with eminent educationalists discussing their own education and features Mike Cooley[45], Noam Chomsky, Seamus Heaney and Charles Handy among others[46][47]. Mike and John Quinn also collaborated on “Education for the 1990s”: Three Lectures Given at a Symposium in Radio Telefís Éireann, October 1989 (RTÉ 1989).[48]

Mike Cooley appeared in the 2003 Alan Gilsenan documentary "Sing on Forever" about the Irish playwright Tom Murphy (playwright), recalling his friendship with Murphy in Tuam. Mike “describes in the documentary their journeys on motorbikes, surveying the world like anthropologists in a strange land. He remembers one trip to the asylum in Ballinasloe and the haunting image of an inmate looking out.”[49]

The Mike Cooley Archive | Waterford Institute of Technology, Luke Wadding LibraryEdit

The Waterford Institute of Technology, Luke Wadding Library acquired by donation from the Cooley Family the entire archive of Professor Mike Cooley[50]. The archive includes over 1400 items including photographs, correspondences, journals, books, drawings, videos, cassette tapes, and slides[51].

The collection includes over 1400 items[52] including photographs, correspondences such as letters and postcards, journals, a wide range of books, drawings, cassette tapes, and slides. A large part of the archive is in relation to The Lucas Plan, and the various correspondences made between different parties about this in the 1970’s and includes photographs, letters (both typed and hand written), newspaper articles, and posters. The collection contains not only the personal work but also many books on literature and poetry. The challenging task in the development of the archive is to digitise the large and diverse material to make it available online for students and researchers. To access the collection for research purposes please contact Robert O’Connor in the School of Science & Computing or Kieran Cronin at the Luke Wadding Library.


  1. ^ | Eco-pioneers in the 1970s: how aerospace workers tried to save their jobs – and the planet
  2. ^ Smith, Adrian; Fressoli, Mariano; Abrol, Dinesh; Arond, Elisa; Ely, Adrian (25 August 2016). Grassroots Innovation Movements. ISBN 9781317451198.
  3. ^ Stapleton, Larry; o'Neill, Brenda; Cronin, Kieran; Kendrick, Matthew (2019). "Announcing the Professor Cooley archive at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland: A celebration of the legacy of Mike Cooley". AI & Society. doi:10.1007/s00146-019-00878-y.
  4. ^ Schmid, Felix; Evans, Stephen; Ainger, Andrew W.S; Grieve, Robert J. (6 December 2012). Computer Integrated Production Systems and Organizations. ISBN 9783642578953.
  5. ^ | DBLP Computer Science Bibliograghy
  6. ^ | Expert stresses designs which are orientated towards people by Carol Coulter
  7. ^ The Lucas Plan by Hilary Wainwright Schocken Books (1981) ISBN 978-0-8052-8098-2
  8. ^ "1976: The fight for useful work at Lucas Aerospace". 13 September 2006. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  9. ^ | The Plan: when engineers proposed socially useful goods over weapons
  10. ^ | Eco-pioneers in the 1970s: how aerospace workers tried to save their jobs – and the planet
  11. ^ | The new economics of Labour by John McDonnell and Hilary Wainwright 25 February 2018
  12. ^ a b Smith, Adrian (2014). "Socially Useful Production" (PDF). STEPS Working Papers. 58. Brighton: STEPS Centre: 17. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  13. ^ Information, Reed Business (21 September 1978). "New Scientist".
  14. ^ "The Right Livelihood Award website". Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  15. ^ Staff, Guardian (6 April 2000). "The good old days". The Guardian.
  16. ^ | Expert stresses designs which are orientated towards people by Carol Coulter
  17. ^ "Bringing Back the Lucas Plan".
  18. ^ cf Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I
  19. ^ "Architect or Bee? The Human Price of Technology".
  20. ^ | Architect or Bee? The human price of technology
  21. ^ Stapleton, Larry; o'Neill, Brenda; Cronin, Kieran; Kendrick, Matthew (2019). "Announcing the Professor Cooley archive at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland: A celebration of the legacy of Mike Cooley". AI & Society. doi:10.1007/s00146-019-00878-y.
  22. ^ The Shape of Future Technology: The Anthropocentric Alternative (Paperback), edited by Peter Brödner; Published by Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH & Co. KG, Germany (1990) ISBN 3540195769 ISBN 9783540195764
  23. ^ "Mike Cooley".
  24. ^ "Acceptance speech - Mike Cooley".
  25. ^ Architect or Bee?, Mike Cooley, South End Press, 1982
  26. ^ Cooley, Mike (1989). "Human-centred Systems". Designing Human-centred Technology. The Springer Series on Artificial Intelligence and Society. pp. 133–143. doi:10.1007/978-1-4471-1717-9_10. ISBN 978-3-540-19567-2.
  27. ^ Labor and Monoply Capital. The Degradation of Work in the 20th Century, John Bellamy Foster and Harry Braverman, Monthly Review Press, 1998
  28. ^ Programmers and Managers: The Routinization of Computer Programmers in the United States, Philip Kraft, 1977
  29. ^ Cooley M. (2008) On Human-Machine Symbiosis. In: Gill S. (eds) Cognition, Communication and Interaction. Human-Computer Interaction Series pp 457-485. Springer, London ISBN 978-1-84628-926-2
  30. ^ | The Human Centred Systems Book Series published by Springer-Verlag, London
  31. ^ Staff, Guardian (6 April 2000). "The good old days". The Guardian.
  32. ^ "Greater London Enterprise Board (Hansard, 26 July 1985)".
  33. ^ "Outside bodies - Greater London Enterprise". February 2019.
  34. ^ | Architect or Bee? Mike Cooley: the human spirit by Karamjit Gill
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ | Technology and the future: automation by Dave Elliott
  38. ^ | Delinquent Genius: The Strange Affair of Man and His Technology by Mike Cooley, foreword by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland ISBN 978 085124 878 3
  39. ^ | Answers on a postcard: how would you do technology differently? by Prof Adrian Smith
  40. ^ "Farewell to Work? (1983)".
  41. ^ Farocki loosely weaves together a number of different thematic threads in the film. One thread surveys the relation of machines and modern warfare from the machine gun to the trenches of WWI to the invention of the tank. Another thread traces the roots of the digital computer back to the Jacquard loom and argues that the development of automation has served capitalist interests by eliminating the need for labor. But Farocki scatters throughout this pessimistic history of the machine efforts to create "alternative technologies" that serve the community and the workers, and he casts doubt on the nature and necessity of technological "progress."
  42. ^ "Look, No Hands! (1988)".
  43. ^ "Equinox: Look, No Hands! | TVmaze".
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ Quinn, John (October 1997). My education. ISBN 9781860590726.
  47. ^ "Working on his retirement".
  48. ^ "John Quinn".
  49. ^ "A restless imagination, dogged by depression".
  50. ^
  51. ^ Stapleton, Larry; o'Neill, Brenda; Cronin, Kieran; Kendrick, Matthew (2019). "Announcing the Professor Cooley archive at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland: A celebration of the legacy of Mike Cooley". AI & Society. doi:10.1007/s00146-019-00878-y.
  52. ^

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