Are the robots really coming for your job?
Technology is a source of innovation, revolution, and freedom. It’s hard to imagine a life without social media, search engines, and YouTube cat videos.
But technology can also be a source of displacement and depersonalization. Automation of human jobs, data tracking, artificial intelligence, and privacy invasions have made many people suspicious and mistrustful of technology.
For businesses, automation has undeniably delivered greater speed, efficiency, and cost control. Robots don’t phone in sick, don’t require dental, and make fewer mistakes. The pandemic has hastened the upheaval, as companies move to replace human contact with technology. An August 2020 article in Time Magazine reports that many positions, from bridge toll operators to food preparers and hotel attendants, are being replaced by sensors or robotic options. Customer service agents have been unseated by chatbots.
Is this an irrepressible trend with implications for the future of all employment? The answer seems to be… partly.
Even with the current state of artificial intelligence and machine sophistication, human beings often still hold the edge in judgement and dexterity. One example comes from a surprising industry: the automotive sector.
A Bloomberg report from 2018 cited managers from major automakers such as Honda, Toyota, and Mercedes saying that human judgement is an essential part of manufacturing. The chief operating officer of Honda’s Ohio manufacturing unit stated, “We can’t find anything to take the place of the human touch and of human senses like sight, hearing and smell.”
Two years prior, Mercedes Benz stated it was “de-automating” in some areas and “relying more on humans” for the wide range of luxury options its customers demanded.
Closer to home, a Statistics Canada report published earlier this year forecasts that artificial intelligence and automation have resulted in 40% of workers being at moderate or high risk of being displaced. The authors used examples such as driver-less vehicles, computer-aided medical diagnostics, and robo-writers. (So if the next blog post here sounds a little impersonal, you know what happened.)
But again, the forecasts are not all dire. The study also concluded that “a high risk of automation does not necessarily imply a high risk of job loss”, but rather “a certain degree of job transformation”.
Of course, there’s one foolproof way to avoid being displaced by a robot: augment your skills and join the growth field of artificial intelligence. You’ll always have one advantage over automated workers, and that is the capacity for self-determination.