If you have been to a McDonald’s location lately, you might have noticed the self-serve kiosks that allow you to order your Big Mac, fries, extra-large soda, and ice cream cone without speaking to a cashier. Or, you might have visited a supermarket that has installed self-serve checkout lanes, giving you the option of scanning your own package of Oreos. The rise of the machines has been on full display in recent years as businesses invest in new technologies. But will this result in automation wiping out human labor? First, it is important to answer the question: What is automation?
What is Automation?
Automation is the development and application of new technology that can perform tasks that were previously completed by human workers. Businesses install machines to operate and monitor equipment, computers, vehicles, and other tools to deliver goods and services.
It has revolutionized every industry, from manufacturing to retail, and amplified our productive capacity. While the goal is to increase productivity and save the company money, automation can theoretically lead to a reduction in the human workforce, which is what is causing concern around the world.
Like everything else, there is a debate on its pros and cons. Let’s explore.
The US economy is doing so well that there are not enough people to fill all the jobs available. When there are not enough bodies for positions being offered, then this could limit productivity, expansion, and investment. Companies could avoid this problem by taking advantage of automation to perform tasks.
Employers will need workers to do mundane, manual, and mindless jobs, but automation may be able to perform these tasks and free up human employees for more creative work. For example, instead of banks having tellers to open bank accounts or take in money, employees can provide their human capital to higher-level tasks like a marketing campaign. Essentially, automation eliminates the routine clerical tasks that take too much time and money. When businesses – large and small – have more human capital on hand, then they will invest in expanding operations.
A lot of blue-collar work environments use automation to assist with certain jobs, especially in areas where it would be too hard for humans to work. A mine, for instance, may use automation to better extract resources from the ground, preventing an employee from having to risk life or injury.
Studies have found that when machines are programmed to execute a repetitive task, the output is more accurate than if a human hand performed this task. Automation boosts product quality because there is less room for human error.
From a consumer standpoint, you are saving money, too, because a business will spend less on pay, benefits, and perks for employees.
One of the main worries about automation is that it will destroy the middle-class or prevent low-skilled workers from getting jobs. If more businesses automate, then unemployment could be a problem.
Businesses will invest in automation to cut down on overhead costs, including labor. But what happens when the machine is inflexible and less versatile than a human worker? A machine can only function based on what it is programmed to do.
Buying machines for automation is a huge financial investment. It could gain big rewards, but it also comes with high risks. What if the equipment is faulty? What if your company is too small to gain the benefits of automation? What if the machines require too much maintenance, supervision, training, and downtime? The success rate of automation is quite high, but there is always a percentage that leads to failure.
There are also environmental concerns because the machines will require more energy than human workers, who rely on a daily bologna sandwich and a bucket of coffee.
The End is Near?
In the end, a business will only invest in automation if it really saves on labor, increases productivity, and, most importantly, makes money.
The demise of the human worker may have been exaggerated. Recent studies found that previous research exaggerated figures to suggest that most human workers would be replaced by machines in the next 20 to 30 years. It is difficult to predict the future. If everyone possessed this gift, then we would all be billionaires.