“Is a machine going to take my job?”
This is the question on many people’s minds as technology continues to develop and automate processes that were once done by humans. The idea of automation has been around for centuries, but with artificial intelligence (AI) now part of everyday life, fears of widespread job loss are at an all-time high.
Machines have been threatening to “replace” human work for centuries. So why is AI causing such a panic? Activities we’ve become accustomed to being automated or reply on a machine to complete did at one point threaten (and replace) an actual human. For example, we get money from ATMs which replaced sole reliance on bank tellers.
Then there are the jobs that use machine automation but still require human assistance. We still employ baristas to work the espresso machines (and provide quality human connection) that make your morning latte. We use machines to mow our lawns (although the “lawn Roomba” is a technology to watch – and although we’re not mad about not having to sweat it out on a hot summer day, lawn care companies are already sweating the competition!)
In this article, we’ll explore why these fears may be unfounded and how automation may in fact create more opportunities for workers.
The History of Automation Anxiety
Automation anxiety isn’t a modern phenomenon – it has a long history. To truly understand its roots, you’ll have to sit through a short history lesson.
Automation in the Pre-Industrial Era
Though mechanized labor was still largely a dream in pre-industrial Europe, industrial advancements such as the steam engine began to fuel fear that manual labor would become obsolete. Even then, concerns over automation centered largely around the impact to the working classes.
Rise of the Machine Age
With the Industrial Revolution came a wave of new technologies designed to automate previously manual tasks. From Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in 1794 to Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1913, machines began to replace traditional forms of labor across manufacturing industries. Though these technological advances set off a chain reaction of economic and social upheaval, they also increased productivity and created new opportunities for employment.
AI in the 21st Century
Today, AI encompasses everything from autonomous vehicles and robotics to natural language processing and computer vision. Its ability to process data quickly and accurately makes it especially useful in big data applications and predictive analytics. But even though AI carries a certain level of risk due to its potential to displace human workers, it also creates opportunities for people to engage in higher value work.
How Human Workers Can Adapt to Automation
When thinking about automation, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about replacing humans; it’s about using machinery and algorithms to support us. Here’s how human workers can stay ahead of the curve and maximize the potential of automation:
Understanding and Embracing Automation
The first step is education and understanding. Learning fundamental principles of AI and related fields helps individuals understand what automation can do, as well as its limitations. And yes, there are limitations. Knowing and understanding both AI’s capabilities and limitations can help inform people’s decisions about their career paths and prepare them for professional roles involving automated systems.
Training for New Skills
It’s no secret that the skills required for today’s labor market are different than those needed twenty, ten, even five years ago! Automation changes technology quickly. To stay relevant, competitive job seekers must have proficiency in newer digital domains, such as machine learning, software engineering, and data science. Companies must also provide training and resources so their employees can maintain and obtain necessary skills.
Leveraging Technology To Create High Value Work
Rather than attempting to completely replace people with technology, companies should focus on leveraging automation to complement and optimize existing workflows. By doing so, they can open new channels of innovation while preserving meaningful roles for human workers. This could involve automating tedious or low-value tasks, which in turn frees up workers to take on more complex work.
Responsible Implementation of Automation
As with any emerging technology, there are still issues that need to be addressed when introducing automation into the workplace. Here are a few things to keep in mind when transitioning to automation:
Considering Ethical Implications
Any decision to introduce AI into a company should come with ethical considerations. It’s critical to think through the implications for working conditions, privacy, safety, and employee rights before putting a system into place. Organizations should consult experts on developing responsible AI as well as conduct internal audits to ensure best practices are being followed.
Organizations should make sure that everyone understands the purpose of the automation program and its goals – and the organizations should understand this themselves, too. Clear communication will go a long way toward reducing any feelings of mistrust or confusion surrounding automation initiatives. Clarity is key if the organization is to move ahead in a unified fashion.
Achieving Regulatory Compliance
Finally, organizations must adhere to government regulations when implementing automation solutions. Laws vary based on sector, location, and application, so consulting a legal team familiar with relevant legislation is essential.
Conclusion: Moving Beyond Fear and Into Solutions
Automation is here to stay, and it brings both risk and opportunity. It’s essential that businesses consider the impact of automation on their workforce and embrace tech-driven change. At the same time, organizations must strive to implement AI responsibly and fairly, considering the ethical implications of their decisions. With proper implementation, automation can drive progress and expand avenues for growth without sacrificing vital roles for humans in the labor market.
The bottom line is, automation does not necessarily mean job loss – rather, if implemented in a procedural and intentional fashion, it can lead to increased productivity and the creation of new roles for human workers. When used thoughtfully, AI has the potential to empower human workers and foster progress.
By remaining thoughtful and informed, businesses can move beyond fear and into solutions involving automation. When we remain open and optimistic about what’s possible, we can capitalize on the possibilities presented by AI and usher in a new era of prosperity.