Modern technology has made so many advances in recent years that many people are beginning to question whether automation will one day entirely replace human employees. In some sectors of the economy, that may indeed be the case. Manufacturing is one of them, and one recent article reveals that one Chinese company has already replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. Some economists have also warned that automation will affect the job market even more. A report from Deloitte consultants partnered with Oxford university suggests that up to 35% of jobs could be at risk within the next 20 years.
While extensive automation may be cause for concern, it could also be cause for celebration, and here’s why. One company executive was quoted as saying
“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control.”
That means that while automation might be replacing a lot of jobs, the majority of them are jobs that most people don’t enjoy doing anyway.
However, it appears that automation may also be encroaching on jobs that most people believe should be left to humans, and journalism is one of them. Companies like Narrative Science are using software like Quill, which was designed to transform raw data into an easily understandable form, to write corporate earnings reports. Those reports are widely used by magazines such as Forbes. Rather than replacing human journalists, automation may free more of their time to provide in-depth commentary on important social issues. Compiling earning reports isn’t the most creative of human endeavors, and utilizing software with the ability to gather and synthesize data can give human writers an edge over the competition.
Another field in which technology can improve rather than replace human work is the field of medicine. At the St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, robots have been helping doctors perform keyhole kidney surgery for years. That particular surgery requires great speed in sewing blood vessels connecting donor kidneys, and robots have proven to be faster than humans. However, they’ve also proven to be less able to adapt to sudden changes in a patient’s condition, such as a drop in blood pressure. Further, robots are machines– and machines can malfunction. According to a safety report, 144 deaths have been attributed to machine-based surgeries in the last ten years.
Just as automation has freed journalists to focus more on the human aspect of journalism, it has also been used to successfully improve human relationships between doctors, patients, and medical staff. Many medical professionals have improved their quality of care with practice management software that automates many functions previously performed by office staff, such as scheduling and generating orders and invoices. Those staff members are now able to spend more time with patients, and doctors are better informed about their symptoms and the progress of their treatments as a result.
Some human endeavors could never be performed by robots, including scientific discovery, creative writing, and entrepreneurship. While, scientists, writers, and entrepreneurs can utilize automation technology to improve their job performance, robots and software both lack the emotional intelligence of humans. Robots are incapable of creating the human connections so necessary for success in any field. While they may be programmed to assemble an inanimate device successfully, humans possess far greater physical dexterity. After all, we’ve had centuries of experience in swimming, hiking, dancing, and playing musical instruments.
Besides lacking the degree of physical dexterity to perform many types of work, robots lack the human sensitivity to become managers, salespeople or business negotiators. They also lack the human warmth, insight, and compassion required to work as nurses or teachers. Rather than fearing the rapid advance of technology, experts advise that speeding up the transformation of our social institutions to accommodate it. Our educational systems will soon be geared towards preparing people for the kinds of jobs that only humans can do. Ironically, by enabling all workers to develop a wider range of skills and abilities, automation may prove to be the first step in the next stage of human evolution.