Will Automation Cause Unemployment To Rise?

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There is a view the ongoing increase in automation will eventually cause significant unemployment due to machines taking over jobs currently done by humans.  I’m happy to admit this is a topic which concerns me.

We’ve all seen TV show and movies depicting a world where domestic duties, manufacturing, transport etc are virtually 100% automated.  These shows and movies often inspire new inventions.  How many ideas from the Back to the Future movies have since become reality?

As technology improves and robots and artificial intelligence (AI) move forwards in leaps and bounds, there will be job losses so how will those affected earn a living to support their family?

In February I attended MYOB’s annual Incite event where they show off enhancements they have made to their offerings over the past 12 months and what they are working towards.   They are constantly working on how to automate more and more bookkeeping and business administration tasks so it is no surprise they are fully behind automation as the way forward.

This year they had 2 gentlemen speak on this topic and they made some interesting points.  They had a slide showing 150 years of job data from the United States which was thought provoking.  Back in the 1850s around 90% of all of their jobs were in agriculture.  Today the number is more like 5%.

I’m sure we can all agree farming technology has come a very long way in the last 150 years.  These days’ farmers have huge harvesting and processing machines which have slashed picking times, automatically sort products and the like.  Tasks which in the past were very labour intensive and time consuming.

Lately I’ve been watching documentaries from the Mega Factories series.  One episode was about Ford’s factory in Dearborn Michigan where pickup trucks are made.  Vehicle manufacturing lines are very different now compared to when Henry Ford first invented the moving assembly line.

The factory has thousands of robots performing a huge array of tasks.  One of the managers interviewed stated they couldn’t make the volume of trucks they are (around 1,200 per day) without the robots.  No surprise there.  What did surprise me was when he then said the factory had to increase its staffing levels because of new jobs created to support and oversee the robots.

Food for thought.

Ultimately, only time will tell and while I feel there are grounds for concern, there is also plenty to suggest things have a way or working out in the end.

Troy Pearce

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