Rise of the Machines: Automation at Work
The trend of manual work being replaced by robots over time is not a new concept. A recent Bank of America report confirmed this is almost certainly a one-way trend. In fact, on their projections, 45% of manufacturing tasks by 2025 will be completed by robots, versus just 10% today.
Oxford University estimates that by the same year, nearly half of all U.S. jobs will be at high risk of being lost to computers, with an additional 20% facing medium risk. They even went so far as to suggest that jobs previously thought of as secure – data analysts and bankers for example – will be under threat.
Professions with a 90% risk or more of being replaced include tour guides, bakers, butchers, pharmacy technicians, insurance sales agents, retail salespersons, tax collectors, telemarketers, accountants and clerks.
These statistics are hard-hitting.
Of course, the counter-argument to this trend is that jobs which require a “human touch” and a certain degree of empathy will not disappear. Examples might include physicians, psychologists, teachers and artists.
The consequences of this rise in automation have been heavily debated. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla has compared the pursuit of advances in AI to “summoning the demon”. He fears that AI could advance out of the control of human beings. Whether or not that scenario evolves in its entirety, it does seem unlikely that the trend towards automation will reverse, so perhaps we should start to look on the brighter side of what this might mean for mankind.
Three areas of opportunity stand-out;
Increased Quality of Work Life
One of the limitations of human beings is that we are, after all, human. This means that we get tired, emotional and constantly change our levels of concentration and productivity. We cannot ultimately sustain an optimal level of performance over long periods of time. The improvement in the quality of individual mental and physical health once certain monotonous tasks are automated could be dramatic.
Enhanced Customer Experience
With increased automation, one fear is that businesses will not need the same amount of manpower as they do currently. However, this ignores the fact that even in an automated environment, there will still always be a competitive landscape. Automated McDonalds will still compete with automated Burger King. Perhaps the area of differentiation is how they use the human touch to enhance customer experience. You can already see this trend at Starbucks where an attendant walks down the queue taking orders on a payment processing device which then gets relayed to the baristas and cashier.
Every technological revolution in history was anticipated nervously with regard to the potential for resulting unemployment. However, what actually materialized was a creation of employment opportunities in areas that had previously not been thought of. Often, these were skilled labour jobs that supported the newly automated areas and were higher paying. This is a good thing. Automation may also force governments to trim bloated public sectors, up-skill their populations and put them back to work in the new look employment market.
Machines are here to stay, but rather than bury our heads in the sand and wait for extinction, let’s remember why we are top of the food chain, adapt, and thrive!