We’ve all heard the news — pack your bags because robots are on the way.
Labor is dead, the economy is doomed, cats and dogs living together, etc. And while these kinds of stories make for excellent headlines — and truly great sci-fi movies — their veracity often leaves something to be desired.
There’s no doubt that automation will play a role in the future, and that it will replace some jobs — in fact, it already has. But there is an enormous canyon between “new technology changing the job market” (which has been true since the wheel was invented) and “the end of the human race.”
Technology like industrial computers and medical PCs are fantastic at automating and streamlining processes that would have taken a human (or several) to do in the same timeframe. However, this doesn’t throw those folks on the employment line – in fact, quite the opposite. Human labor is often augmented, improved, and even increased by automation.
But how is that possible?
1. The Robots Will Take All of Our Jobs By Year 20xx
First, let’s start with the base assertion: that automation replacing all jobs is inevitable.
This may be a bit of an overshoot. To begin with, very few experts agree on this subject — this chart shows an assortment of job loss and job creation statistics from different studies, surveys, prognosticators, scientific journals, and magazines. None of which agree with one another about the future of automation.
A Forbes article makes the point that we have already lost 90% of the jobs in history from automation or new technology, and the world has yet to collapse.
Obviously, that didn’t happen overnight — we’re talking hundreds of years — but it’s a good statistic to diffuse some of the hysteria and hyperbole. Jobs get replaced by technology all the time, through the entire course of human history — that’s the point of technology.
But while certain jobs do disappear, other jobs always come in to fill the gap. It may be in a different industry, it may cause a brief economic shakeup, but the market tends to find equilibrium over time.
2. Automation Makes Humans Pointless
As anyone who’s worked in any kind of customer-facing job knows, people have questions.
For instance, some restaurants have implemented a self-order kiosk at the counter (like McDonald’s) or pay-when-you’re-ready tablets at the table (like Chili’s). However, this doesn’t mean labor has been lost. For a cashier-tablet, you still need someone around to help people use the tablets – not everyone is tech savvy. You need someone there to answer questions, make substitutions, and deal with errors.
There’s also an increased turnaround with tables. Since patrons don’t have to wait around for the check to come to the table, they can simply tap a few buttons, swipe their card, and leave.
When some cashiers are lost, they are often replaced by more help in the kitchen to cover the increase in the speed of ordering and an increased number of customers being served on a given shift.
In a situation like a doctor’s office, some have implemented a medical tablet to allow patients to sign in and enter their data faster. This also eliminates the need for double entry and significantly cuts down on paper costs. Could this eliminate a reception job? Potentially, depending on workload, but that loss would allow the practice to hire another nurse to reduce wait times and provide better patient care.
3. Any Job Can Be Replaced, Given Time
Some jobs resist automation.
The automatability of certain tasks and jobs has been vastly overrated according to a study in the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim.
They found that “experts tend to overestimate the potential of new technologies.” They noted that “the comparative advantage of machines … is typically overstated for tasks involving flexibility, power of judgment, and common sense.”
Even factories, often the pinnacle of automation’s success, require things like Human Machine Interfaces (or HMI panels), in the form of industrial tablets and industrial panel PCs.
HMI computers are invaluable in a factory space. They not only track maintenance on machines but can alert the operator when it’s time for another spot check. They can use past patterns and current data to predict production surges, detect where production bottlenecks may occur, and even enforce quality control. But, you still need a human hand at the tiller – or in this case, the HMI – to react and problem-solve in ways a machine can’t.
These advances increase production, which grows the company, which builds more factories, which requires more human labor, etc.
4. Automation and Labor Are Natural Enemies
In an essay in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, MIT economics professor David H. Autor outlines how automation through history has always augmented labor more than replaced it and actually leads to higher demand for labor.
Automation replaces tedious, repetitive tasks, and thus frees up human labor to spend more time solving complex problems through creativity and adaptability.
This further bolsters the “90% of jobs in history have been replaced by technology” argument made by Forbes. The invention of the car may have put many horse trainers and farriers out of business, but it created an entire market of automotive service, industry, tech, and drivers that easily replaced those jobs – and likely created many more.
5. Machines Are Just Better At Everything
The human animal is a remarkable machine — human brains are far superior to A.I. at image recognition, context clues, and creativity. Still, there’s no denying that computers, automation, and A.I. are better (and safer) than people for many specialized jobs. Robots have hardly eliminated the need for firefighters, but firefighting robots are used in areas that are unsafe for humans. A human can use a drone and a touchscreen tablet to inspect a sewer line, map a mine shaft, and even disarm a bomb.
More thoroughly-inspected sewer lines create more opportunity for repair and replacement. Mapping a mine shaft means more work for miners. Disarming a bomb, well, the benefits speak for themselves.
But when it comes to versatility and adaptability, the human race still holds the top spot. While certain tasks can be automated, entire jobs are rarely so easy to replace.
Don’t Let Automation Keep You Up at Night
It’s understood that automation will affect low-skilled jobs the most and that many workers may lose their jobs. We recognize this for how difficult it is for those affected.
However, when discussing the macro scale of jobs overall, many of the worst campfire tales about the dangers of automation have been greatly overstated.
For more information on how you can automate processes and improve efficiency, you can contact Cybernet here.