Automation Is Changing Everything

  • January 18, 2018
  • Feature
Automation Is Changing Everything
Automation Is Changing Everything

By Anthony Coggine, Business Writer

Advances in automation are causing us to reevaluate everything, from how we power our businesses to how we analyze data. As such, the future of automation provides tremendous potential for both risk and reward. The workforce could be expanded, productivity could skyrocket, the price of goods could plummet. At the same time, jobs could be eliminated, industries disrupted, and political stability threatened. 

What’s so frightening about automation? At the moment, it is uncertain how automation and intelligent machines will reshape our world. Many posit that the effects of artificial intelligence will be a net good on society. Pipelines, productivity, and decision making could all be improved through the use of artificial intelligence and through automation. However, in the short term, the transition could be unsettling, and perhaps, disruptive.

A recent Oxford report suggests that as many as 47% of jobs are at risk for computerization. “The next wave of economic dislocations won't come from overseas,” Obama predicted in his farewell address. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle class jobs obsolete.”

“Our model predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk,” reports the Oxford study. “These findings are consistent with recent technological developments.”

Manufacturing jobs are already vanishing en masse. Robots are able to accomplish more in a shorter period of time with less chance of error. Thousands of manufacturing jobs have already been lost. As the technologies associated with automation continue to progress, the job cuts will become more aggressive. According to a Ball State University study, 87% of manufacturing job losses stemmed from factories becoming more efficient. To put this number in context, only 13% of job losses were due to trade, the oft-cited killer of blue collar jobs.

Automated driving software, software we may see deployed in the next five to ten years could displace, as Elon Musk estimates, 12-15% of the world’s workforce. This quick disruption could bring disastrous effects for unprepared workers who don’t have access to educational resources or skills training.

“We may not be aware of it, but machine learning is already an integral part of our daily lives,” Simon Worrall wrote in his piece How Artificial Intelligence Will Revolutionize Our Lives for National Geographic. “Few of us understand it or the implications, however.”

What are driving these changes? Automation has always been of interest to scientists, entrepreneurs, and consumers. Waves of automation have caused changes in the way we work and receive goods, but never have the changes been so rapid and widespread. When gas pumps became self-serve in the 1960s, a great deal of jobs were eliminated, for example. Enough that it caused concern for those in the upper working class.

Ultimately, nothing was done to protect these individuals, save for a few exceptions (in Oregon, for example, self-serve gas stations are disallowed). Computers equipped with the capability to learn, operate outside of their code, and make their own decisions have the capability to wipe out far more many jobs across many different classes, industries, and skill sets, however.

“People are racing against the machine and many of them are losing the race,” Iyad Rahwan from the MIT media lab said at EmTech in his presentation about AI and the future of work. “The answer is not to try to slow down technology. We need to race with the machine.”

Are the rewards worth the risk? Economic displacement seems inevitable and innovation marches on. These automation innovations address pressing problems in infrastructure, productivity, and labor. Artificial intelligence and automation could usher in an era of cheaper healthcare, universal basic income, and greater economic stability. Super intelligence, machines that are smarter than the smartest human pose even greater risk, however, and must be managed even more carefully.

"I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Bill Gates said in a Reddit AMA. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well.”

About the Author

Anthony Coggine is a HR professional turned business writer. He has been covering a range of topics including training, HR, recruiting and cryptocurrency news.

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