Automation has been viewed as problematic for longer than most people realise, but it is not all doom and mechanised gloom.
We think of automation as an ultra-modern phenomenon, however, one of the first high-profile cases happened in the textile industry in the 19th century, with the creation of the Threshing Machine.
Even without robotic arms, esoteric flashing lights, or Terminator/iRobot/Space Odyssey connotations, the adoption of the Threshing Machine in factories was enough to give rise to an oath-based militant group who broke into factories at night and smashed the machines to pieces, if they weren’t burning the factories down entirely.
The fear and resistance came from fear or frustration about losing their means of earning a living, which is quite understandable. The same is true today when ‘the machines’ threaten to take people’s jobs, or even threaten whole industries. However, British comedian John Oliver rightly states that ‘a job automated is not necessarily a job lost’, and as such fear may not an appropriate response.
Oliver makes the point that often automation replaces processes and not people. Through automation, we are able to do more with fewer resources, and often new jobs are created in place of the ones that were lost. For example, when the automatic teller machine (ATM) became the primary way that people withdraw physical currency, the people that used to work as bank tellers were then free to perform different (and often more profitable) tasks, and employment in the banking industry actually went up.
“neuroscience may reach a point where memory surgery is possible, organ farming could well become an industry”
It is important to consider that most of what we do in the professional world now didn’t exist 100 years ago. There are whole industries that didn’t exist 100 years ago. In the early 1900s, 40% of people in America were employed in agriculture. Today this number is just 2%. This does not mean that this 38% per cent of the population that would have been working in agriculture are now without employment. What it means is that they are doing jobs that no one back then could have predicted would exist: Data scientist, web developer, UI/UK designer etc.
Given that the world’s technological advancement shows no sign of slowing, we can assume with a reasonable degree of confidence that many of the jobs people now hold will be performed by machines or software in the future, but that there will be new trades and professions available that do not currently exist now.
From this, we can reasonably conclude that one’s ability to learn will become increasingly important. Our ability to be adaptable and pick up new skills and tools will most likely define how successful we are. We may even have to shelve idea that having a single career is a reasonable way. to approach our working lives. It may come to pass that having four or more different roles throughout our lives may be the norm.
While this may sound frightening, it is also exciting. The fact that the whole world regularly needs to start from scratch in terms of learning a new skill set, means that there is an opportunity for newcomers to be successful.
Computer giant Dell claims that: 85% of jobs that will exist In 2030 haven’t been invented yet, so no one currently has the monopoly on them, there are no incumbent powerhouses that dominate these fields.
Industries such as renewable energy will grow in size, neuroscience may reach a point where memory surgery is possible, organ farming could well become a thing, and, less horrifyingly, refuse disposal will no doubt be something that needs managing creatively and at scale as the population of the world hurtles ever upwards.
With automation being a constant (at the slowest), are you ready for the world it is creating?