It is no secret that I am all about technology.  Aside from the fact that it has funded a very comfortable lifestyle for my family, I simply enjoy it.  While I don't love being on the bleeding edge, I do like trying things pretty early on.  Since I have passed 40 devices on my home router, it is fair to say that most things in my house are somewhat automated.

I went to the grocery store the other day and went to check out.  On days when it is busy, I generally use the self-checkout, as I usually only buy a few things at a time.  It wasn't very busy the other day, so I went to use the cashier's line.  She didn't notice I was there, as her iPhone was apparently more interesting.  After waiting 10 seconds for her to acknowledge me, I went over to the automated one.  She actually snapped at me, "You know that machine is going to take my job"...

It brings up a good point/counter-point....sure, eventually technology may take your job, but if your job can be taken by a machine, isn't that just part of progress?  Farm machinery took the jobs of millions of workers and we all just see that as progress.  Online banking has replaced tens of thousands of bank tellers and most of us don't think anything of it.  Perhaps it is just because we need to walk past the cashiers at a store (to use self-service) that we feel guilty.

Is automation progress or is it just the rich getting richer?

It is a good question.  As businesses try to increase their profits in a slow growth economy, it is inevitable that lowering down the cost of labour is a way to do it.  While no one likes to see anyone lose their job, I think most people understand the need to stay competitive.  However, the debate comes up as to how much is too much....does a company that makes 10B in profit need to make 11B by cutting tens of thousands of workers and replacing them with technology?

Studies have shown that US$20 is an important number.  If your salary is less than that per hour, there is an 83% chance that your job will be replaced by some form of automation.  If you make over US$40 per hour, that falls to under 5%.  The numbers make sense. Many of the roles in lower bracket incomes have some sort of routine and often a physical nature to them – they do things that software/robots can often be programmed to do. On the flip side, higher bracket jobs often require specialized training / skills that are tougher to duplicate.

Just because we can, does it mean that we should?

It is an interesting question.  We spend billions on things that make our life easier, but what is the social cost?  Do we have a responsibility to replace workers?  Well, in a world that was under control of one person, we could easily do that.  In that scenario, everyone would work and there would be no motivation to replace anyone.  However, that is not the world we live in.  Companies compete for capital and market share, so staying cost competitive is part of the reality of a capitalist society.  For some companies, using automation may mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

However, I think we need to improve transitions on those who are being outsourced, as well as offer training for future generations who will be filling in the roles that are not as likely to be automated.

The Bottom Line

As I have written before, IoT is part of the drive to bring information back to key systems, which is part of many automated solutions.  So, do I feel guilty?  Sure, I don't love the fact that my company may help to expedite some job losses. However, it is part of the gain of safety and other benefits that we bring.  One of the ways that workers can slow down the progress of being outsourced is to bring value to your role that is not easily provided by a machine or software package.  For example, put away the iPhone when customers are waiting. Don't give people reasons to WANT to use a machine.