Automation is about as 21st century as it gets: Robots doing all our busy work, while us humans... well, that’s where things get tricky. Data shows automating industries and jobs leaves humans in a tenuous position. Can developers and engineers help solve the problem of people losing jobs to machines?
In many ways, it can feel as though we’re at a turning point for automation. We read stories about poor working conditions at Amazon warehouses, but are loathe to give up our two-day shipping benefit. Automation is the quick answer to many issues involving logistics chains and labor, but it leaves those working on Amazon’s warehouse floor in the lurch; what will they do if a robot takes their job?
A SmartAsset study shows the cities and towns most vulnerable to automation. Its findings suggest that retail jobs, such as sales personnel and cashiers, are most at risk (alongside restaurant servers): “All three occupations have over a 90 percent chance of automation and require no advanced education."
In an infographic, noodle.ai showcases just how much money is on the table with A.I. and automation. It posits that, by 2030, automation could add up to $600 billion in profits for the retail industry, along with $380 billion for healthcare, $350 billion for public works, and $120 billion to agriculture. It also says 250-280 million jobs could be created globally by the push to automate.
Noodle.ai also says 30 percent of “the activities in most occupations could be automated.” It continues: “Up to 375 million workers may need to change occupations, and virtually all workers may need to adapt to integrated human-A.I. work.”
Management is aware of these trends. A Nintex study shows 71 percent of “decision makers” queried know that one-fifth of the jobs in this country are ripe for disruption by automation. A report from McKinsey adds that, by 2030, up to 40 percent of jobs in the U.S. may vanish (mostly entry-level positions).
World Bank’s Chief Economist Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg says: “This fear that robots have eliminated jobs – this fear is not supported by the evidence so far.” But 2030 is a mere decade away, and if the other findings are correct, our unfounded fears will soon become a reality.
The philosophical position that jobs will be changed (not replaced) by automation is a fair one. Reimagining an Amazon warehouse where a human ‘manages’ 5-6 bots meant to fetch items from shelves is far more attractive than the reality of human workers in Amazon’s facilities today. Efficiency and growth should be buoyed by job protection for humans, at least on a technological level.
“This is the fourth industrial revolution… and in each case we managed to survive so it’s not the case that machines completely eliminated humans," Koujianou Goldberg suggests. At least not yet. But as we build these bots and A.I. services, we should keep in mind that the aim is to make human jobs simpler, not eliminate them.