11. Automation: Will it kill more jobs in the coming years?

Enterprises currently spend over $1.5 billion to corroborate automation into their projects. Robotic automation is growing at a faster rate of 60%. Fears that automation will kill more jobs to continue to grow. Now, the world is not only dealing with robots that do physical labour but with Artificial Intelligence that does mental labour as well.

What is Automation?

  • It was first originated in 1948, in the manufacturing sense, by Ford Motors Vice President Delmar S. Harder.
  • The use of complex control systems for equipment activity such as machines, processes in factories, boiler and heat storage boiler, switching over telecommunications networks, monitoring and stability of ships, aircraft, and other applications, and of vehicles requiring insignificant or diminished human presence, are electronic or automatic operated.
  • In another sense, it also mean that the use of computers to control a specific process in order to upturn consistency and efficacy thereby reducing human labour.

What is the Timeline of Automation?

DateDevelopments
1500-1600Water power for metalworking; rolling mills for coinage strips.
1600-1700Hand lathe for wood; mechanical calculator.
1700-1800Boring, turning, and screw cutting lathe, drill press
1800-1900Copying lathe, turret lathe, universal milling machine; advanced mechanical calculators.
1808Sheet-metal cards with punched holes for automatic control of weaving patterns in looms.
1863Automatic piano player (Pianola)
1900-1920Geared lathe; automatic screw machine; automatic bottle-making machine.
1920First use of the word robot
1920-1940Transfer machines; mass production.
1940First electronic computing machine.
1943First digital electronic computer.
1945The first use of the word automation.
1947The invention of the transistor.
1952First prototype numerical control machine tool.
1954Development of the symbolic language APT (Automatically Programmed Tool); adaptive control.
1957Commercially available NC machine tools.
1959Integrated circuits; first use of the term group technology
1960Industrial robots.
1965Large-scale integrated circuits
1968Programmable logic controllers
1970sFirst integrated manufacturing system; spot welding of automobile bodies with robots; microprocessors; minicomputer-controlled robot; flexible manufacturing system; group technology.
1980sArtificial intelligence; intelligent robots; smart sensors; untended manufacturing cells.
1990-2000sIntegrated manufacturing systems; intelligent and sensor-based machines; telecommunications and global manufacturing networks; fuzzy-logic devices; artificial neural networks; Internet tools; virtual environments; high-speed information systems
2000-onwards4th Industrial Revolution, Internet of Things (IoT), Wearable devices, Personal and professional robots, Robotics from manufacturing to services and even the primary sectors of the economy, Big data.

What are the major advantages of automation?

  • It can save hard physical and tiresome work such as daily routine works.
  • It can be maintained through simple quality checks.
  • Increased throughput time. This is the time to complete a job, therefore, increases productivity.
  • Improves quality because of the replacement of humans by machines. Therefore, it also reduces human induced errors.
  • Improves the reliability of processes and products by timely problem escalation and resolution if the case of any process or the product.
  • Increases production speed as the advancement in technology. Therefore, better production time and thus gives the higher output.
  • Savings on the long-term costs of the labor and the cost of poor quality.
  • Higher flexibility of skills as well as adaptation.
  • In the jobs where there is a requirement of hard physical or monotonous work or dangerous environments, for example, fire, space, volcanoes, nuclear facilities, underwater, etc, robots can deliver better.
  • Some tasks which are not under the human capabilities such as something of the largest size, weight, speed, endurance, such as lifting heavy machines, faster computing, weather perdition etc; these are all can be done with automation in an efficient manner.
  • Open opportunities at the higher level in the development, deployment, maintenance and running of the automated processes.

What are the main disadvantages of automation?

  • Security and vulnerability to hacking.
  • The rise of unemployment across the manufacturing and services sectors and in the short term it would prove to be a huge challenge to the administration.
  • Initial costs during the research and development may sometimes exceed the cost saved by automating the process.
  • The initial capital requirement is very high and common people can’t afford it.
  • The decline in demand for workers because of the manufacturing and service sectors of machinery and smart robots. For eg, some customs agents in China are now robots, while robots in house-keeping in Japan is on the rise.
  • Automated technologies falling into the hands of the terror groups may cause modern terror network including machine and therefore, the vulnerability of humans may become huge.

What are some applications of Automation in society?

Automation is playing many roles across the sectors to ease human life and make living conditions better. Some of its applications are:

  • Manufacturing sector: Industrial robots have changed the production game, and a single assembly line will now manufacture multiple versions, thereby reducing costs and improving output timing.
  • Health Sector: Automation of surgical instruments, health database and information on diseases of different types has led to a faster diagnosis and better drug prescription and further higher survival rates to the humans.
  • Service sector: Robots are replacing humans in the jobs across various industries including the restaurants, tourism, customs in the developed countries however it is still in the nascent phase.
  • Education: New kinds of tools which would be based upon the skill set and capability of the student can be developed. It can lead to education as per need, not as a directly forced medicine.
  • Women and children: Automation makes surveillance system better and therefore reduces crimes against them.
  • Corruption: Automation in governance such as E-governance, in service delivery system such as E-sahyog may start an era of more transparent and good governance.
  • Automated retail stores: Example – Macdonald keeps robots as waiting manager, Bengaluru-based Pace Automation Ltd. has partnered with IBM to provide a cloud-based solution to help native Kirana merchants turn into e-tailers.
  • Automated stores: Many supermarkets across the developed countries are going full automation to save costs.
  • Automated Mining: We often come to know the loss of human lives due to mining accidents. Therefore, to mitigate such instances, people are being replaced with robots.
  • Automated highway system: It’s very popular in western countries and recently the Indian government has also announced a road safety policy on similar outlines.
  • Wearable devices: Next step of revolution is several kinds of devices that can monitor health 24x7x365 and even apply for medicines if needed. Furthermore, they will take care of other needs such as connectivity, exercise, education etc. Therefore all in one machine.
  • Weather prediction: Natural calamities such as droughts, tsunami, floods, cyclones etc. can be predicted in advance and further early warning systems can help in reducing human and environmental loss.
  • IT Automation: In judiciary may lead to faster resolution of cases and reduce justice delivery time.
  • Automated patrolling: of border areas may strengthen our internal and border security and help in curbing cross-border terrorist infiltrations, human-animal-resource trafficking at the borders.

What are the new challenges emerging out of automation?

  • Safety and security of data.
  • As per a World Bank report, Automation poses a threat to 69 per cent of the jobs in India and 77 per cent in China.
  • As per reports of HR Honchos, 60% of the global workforce may get displaced in future by the automation and artificial
  • The threat to privacy evident from the recent debit card hackings.
  • Regulation of these new technologies.
  • The textile sector which used to employ 40 workers for an investment of 1 crore now employs only 25 workers per Rs.1 crore. (Texprocil and Ernest & Young report)
  • Increasing unemployment due to faster change of skills and technologies.
  • Modern cybercriminals who remains invisible and cause pain to millions by direct or indirect criminality.
  • It has become a tool for the terror group to spread their propaganda and attract young and can be used for brainwashing. For example, social media such as Facebook, Twitter has become a hiring tool for them.
  • A recent emerging threat is about the “Trust” on machines. Recent elections where EVMs were used led to some people speculating that they have been compromised. Therefore they may sometimes pose administrative challenges of this sort.

Conclusion

Many experts have reported the rise of automation as one of the most important economic and social developments in the entire history. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has characterized it as the fulcrum of a 4th Industrial Revolution. Moreover, the economist Andrew McAfee said, “Digital technologies are doing for human brainpower what the steam engine and related technologies did for human muscle power during the Industrial Revolution. They’re allowing us to overcome many limitations rapidly and to open up new frontiers with unprecedented speed. It’s a very big deal. But how exactly it will play out is uncertain.”

It may contribute to unemployment, mass unrest and, for several causes, even societal strife. It is hard to predict, in the short term, who will take advantage of these benefits, but better policy guidelines, improved legislation and social security measures will essentially bring society overall good.

Practice questions:

  1. Discuss the negative and positive sides of automation and give a clear way forward.
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