Some say what’s taking shape is a more productive symbiosis between man and machine — and successful businesses will be the ones that embrace and optimise it. Whereas some would say that technology and automation is taking our jobs away.

The threat of automation and IoT. Is this really the case? I mean, if we are creating and adopting technology to improve our lives and leaving the laborious jobs to robots and smart automation systems then aren’t we collectively in control of what does what, when and how?

Or to better put it, is this a process of self improvement and the pursuit of transformation? Evolution?

In 2013 Oxford University released a paper, The Future of Employment, according to their findings the top 10 most likely jobs to be automated include telemarketers, insurance underwriters, watch repairers and accountants’ clerks. But high on the list are also legal secretaries, models, estate agents, cooks and dental technicians. It’s a surprising variety. But many feel the predicted rise of the robot is still just a theory.

This could be another example of statistics flying in the face of common sense. People will always be at the heart of a successful business. If you want a formula for a great business you have to fill it with great people and no amount of robots can replace that.

That may be true but it also raises the point that humans, for the foreseeable future at least, are in charge and whether or not a job can be automated doesn’t mean it actually will be automated. There are a number of potential inhibitors including the capital cost of automation as well as certain jobs requiring human interaction.

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”

For example consider waiters and waitresses, we would expect them to be non-automatable. Why? Because what can be observed is the requirement to make pleasant small talk with restaurant customers beyond what we could see a robot server providing.

Nonetheless, algorithms have been created giving waiters and waitresses a high probability of computerisation. Some restaurant chains have introduced tablets to their tables, which are able to take orders, recommend specials and take payment more efficiently than a human server.

MAKING THE AGE OF AUTOMATION WORK FOR EVERYONE

This era of technological change is like nothing seen in the past. Technology is getting “smarter,” taking on more cognitive abilities and tasks once thought to be reserved for people. This sophistication combined with the global reach and speed of change and adoption of technology is changing the way goods are produced and services are delivered, with a range of implications for labour markets around the world.

‘It is essential that we approach this wave of innovation in a way that creates widespread benefits for people, society, and business’

This second machine age, as it has been called, is defined by a number of significant technological developments, including Big Data, 3D Printing, the Internet of Things, remote connectivity, and industrial and autonomous robots.

Companies across various industries are embracing these technologies to improve operational efficiency and performance, reduce waste and conserve natural resources, reach new markets and audiences with speed and convenience, and support product and process innovation.

The pace, nature, and ubiquity of technological change will have significant impacts on job availability, access, and quality. Some jobs will be replaced by machines while new jobs are created and existing jobs take on new and different tasks.

‘Automation is anticipated to change some fundamental ways of working and with it the relationship between employers and employees’.

Considering the happiness and satisfaction of the workers who fill existing and new jobs will determine how well companies are able to capture the productivity, quality, and innovation gains possible through automation.

Businesses have a strong interest in ensuring that they, and their workforce, are prepared for an era of massive change. This means not only mitigating the negative impacts of technology but also harnessing it as a powerful driver of economic opportunity and improved well-being.

“Businesses have a strong interest in ensuring that they, and their workforce, are prepared for an era of massive change”

The Internet of Things in the coming years will embed sensors and actuators in almost every type of machine and physical asset. This is enabling new ways of monitoring and managing all the “moving parts” that make up a business, from fleets of vehicles to air temperature and quality to the flow of goods or materials through plants, distribution centers, and even onto store shelves.

This provides businesses a number of benefits in terms of operational efficiency, precision, and transparency. It could also create new jobs as well as improve existing jobs by enhancing worker productivity.

NOTHING IS INFALLIBLE OR PERFECT

Consider this scenario: If jobs were to be taken by automation and robots resulting in mass unemployment, then how do we stimulate consumer demand if well-being, affordability and lifestyle that businesses and economies thrive on is compromised by machines doing the majority of work?

Robots are not paid so how could people afford to live and buy things if they are not contributing to the economy? We could end up with a paradox.

The economy has to work for everyone. Employment is essential to productivity, economics and globalisation. The progress of technology, automation and the IoT will inevitably replace some jobs, but it will create many more in high-tech industries and services in order to sustain the technological growth.

“The economy has to work for everyone. Employment is essential to productivity, economics and globalisation”

Nothing is infallible. Computers, machines and robots rely on power, programming and maintenance and every so often we see a glitch occur. Power outages, malfunctions related to maintenance and upgrades that fail to sustain.

These are some of the concerns that ensure automation and robots cannot completely supersede people. Automation and robotics rely on humans as their creator to manage them, provide instructions and help them to adapt based on the requirements and strategies of businesses.

A JOBLESS FUTURE? OR HUMAN FOLLY?

Actually, worries that rapidly advancing technologies will destroy jobs date back at least to the early 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution in England. Media acceptance of the idea that, because “the robots are coming for your jobs,” in future there will soon be “no work for human beings.”

The fact that a computer can do something better than a human being doesn’t mean that the computer will replace the human being. The market will determine whether it is economical to do so, given the costs and perceived benefits.

In reality, when machines replace one kind of human capability, as they did in the transitions from hunter/gatherer, from serf, from freehold farmer, from factory worker, from clerical worker, from knowledge worker on to whatever comes next, in each case, new human experiences and capabilities emerged.

The question is, as always, not whether individual jobs are being replaced, but rather what is the net effect of all the changes in employment. ATMs and PCs for instance don’t instantly appear out of nowhere at no cost. They have to be designed, built, marketed, sold, introduced in the marketplace and in the workplace, and reconciled with all the other things and systems going on.

“The question is, as always, not whether individual jobs are being replaced, but rather what is the net effect of all the changes in employment”

All of these activities require large amounts of human time and effort. The net effect of ATMs and PCs is not simply the removal of the jobs of bank tellers and the secretaries. We have to add in all the other jobs and work that are being created, and then see what the net effect is.

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A FINAL THOUGHT

In our opinion a “jobless future” is not possible. It is a restructuring of skills in order to support technological growth. We are expected to be smarter and to evolve leaving the repetitive work that doesn’t really allow us to progress, discover and innovate.

Afterall, we are using automation and robots to make our lives easier. We feel the process is about delegating what we don’t need to perform anymore. Therefore the future will be a tougher, more competitive and a higher skilled environment to survive in.

How do you feel about the future of technology and the impact on jobs?