Is Automation a Killer?

Workers and business heads both wonder about the rapid developments of technological and digital processes and the unprecedented changes they bring along with them. Conversations are often embedded with fear of employment loss from laborers, or full of optimistic productivity goals from CEOs. In an ever-changing world, one thing is for certain. Automation, the creation and procedure of carrying out work with minimal human involvement, and its continued expansion into different sectors will alter work drastically.

One of the largest sectors predicted to see the most automation in the next decade is manufacturing. Technological advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, edge computing, cloud computing, data acquisition, cybersecurity and remote operations are just some of the innovations driving automation. Accordingly, there are several advantageous opportunities and disadvantageous outcomes just on the horizon.

Advantage of Automation

Let’s start with the optimistic outlooks, including the death of inefficiency and improvement of quality and productivity:

  • Efficiency: Machines and digital computing operations offer high speed and advanced precision that cannot be replicated by human labor. Overall, from the raw materials to the finished product, automation looks forward to an efficient process. It reduces waste in terms of material, energy, and human labor energy expenditure.
  • Quality of products: Since machines can carry out precise work, or analyze data with little to no error, a higher-quality product is achieved. It also increases the volume of consistent products.
  • Availability and variation of jobs: Automation often leads to new and different jobs, from managing robots to verifying data. Additionally, as productivity increases exponentially as a result of increased automation, a higher number of jobs can follow. In a 2017 report, McKinsey Global Institute stated that 7 out of 10 workers believe automation will result in more high-skill jobs.
  • Company revenue: With the vast array of new products and increased quantity of products entering the market thanks to automation, companies will see reflective revenue growth.
  • Competition: Investing in new automation processes allows businesses to keep a competitive edge against other companies. The Census Bureau conducted a study in 2018, revealing that most states in the US already had more than 10% of manufacturing companies participating in robotic integration.

With all these advantages, what’s on the other side of the coin?

Disadvantages of Automation

Job displacement, suppression of human creativity and high costs underscore the need to balance automation and the human condition:

  • Job displacement and loss: A major concern of the workforce is that there will be a considerable loss of employment. Along with new types of jobs related to managing automation, there will be corresponding job displacement and losses. For example, in the next decade, there is a projected 25% job displacement risk in the United States.
  • Human creativity: By replacing human labor with intelligent robots or digital processing, there is a loss of human creativity and innovation. There may also be an increased value placed on efficiency and precision, which may affect art and skill-based sectors.
  • Human connection: An integral part of human connection occurs in the workplace. As humans are swapped out for machines, social connections will suffer unless reparations are made through other dimensions of work.
  • Mental health: With rapidly-shifting work conditions, looming job insecurity, and increasing living costs, workers are left with levels of stress that will affect their overall mental health.
  • Investment costs: The initial investments in automation are costly. The Census Bureau determined that the manufacturing sector was already reporting the highest expenses in 2018, investing in smart reading and learning computer systems and robotics.

Automation, like all innovation that came before it, will bring both the death of old ways and the birth of new ones. Those who adapt most quickly are likely to find themselves in a better position than those who hold onto jobs headed towards obsolescence.

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