GP The Panel 3: Automation

Is automation going to put us all out of a job?

2019-02-12 23:33:43
This piece first appeared in the Guernsey Press on 12th February, 2019.

Q: Is automation going to put us all out of a job?

Of all the recent technology trends, automation remains at the forefront of them and remains our pick for the biggest technology disruptor in 2019. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the latest buzzword that’s been garnering a lot of interest over the last 18 months as the toolkits have become considerably more sophisticated and capable, whilst making lofty promises such as “no-code” solutions so that, in theory, at least, you don’t need specialist skills or consultants. 

Common candidates for automation technologies are the (typically) mundane, repetitive, time-consuming and often error-prone processes that need to be done but don’t add much in the way of value. A common example of this is the “we’ve always done it that way” business process - nobody can quite remember why they still do it and is usually a process that requires moving some data from one spreadsheet to another.  These processes are easily automated (or eliminated entirely) with something that operates the same way, every time and usually in considerably less time than it would take for a human to complete the same tasks. 

Of course, automation can be used in considerably more sophisticated ways and, coupled with the emergence of artificial intelligence, there is a growing fear that this will all result in rising unemployment as the machines take over, Skynet-style. Fortunately, research carried out looking at the last 5 decades of technological change does not support this fear; in fact, it finds that the reverse is mostly true - that automation in fact creates more jobs - in existing and emerging industries alike. Some diversification of job roles is inevitable but this should be at the expense of redundant processes and in favour of time spent on more applied which, for the moment, at least, the machines cannot do.