Does Workplace Automation Improve Service or Merely Cut Costs?Chances are, the CEO won’t know there’s a problem until complaints come in. Elon Musk didn’t
A writer who specializes in AI and job loss says service declines are common:
Listen: ‘Robots’ are not coming for your jobs. I hope we can be very clear here—at this particular point in time, ‘robots’ are not sentient agents capable of seeking out and applying for your job and then landing the gig on its comparatively superior merits. ‘Robots’ are not currently algorithmically scanning LinkedIn and Monster.com with an intent to displace you with their artificial intelligence. Nor are ‘robots’ gathered in the back of a warehouse somewhere conspiring to take human jobs en masse. A robot is not ‘coming for’, or ‘stealing’ or ‘killing’ or ‘threatening’ to take away your job. Management is.Brian Merchant, “‘Robots’ Are Not ‘Coming for Your Job’—Management Is” at Gizmodo
The beloved “robots will steal your job by 2025” claim, a headline writer’s favorite, blurs the fact that specific automation projects vary dramatically in success:
Because even the most ardent robot lovers will agree, there are plenty of cases of badly deployed automation; systems that make our lives worse and more inefficient, and that kill jobs en route to worse outcomes. (I call this shitty automation, and from where I’m sitting, it’s abundant.) And such automated regression is often implemented under the logic of ‘robots are coming,’ so better hop aboard. We will be able to make better decisions about embracing effective automation if we understand that, in practice, ‘the robots are coming for our jobs’ usually means something more like ‘a CEO wants to cut his operating budget by 15 percent and was just pitched on enterprise software that promises to do the work currently done by thirty employees in accounts payable.’Brian Merchant, “‘Robots’ Are Not ‘Coming for Your Job’—Management Is” at Gizmodo
Chances are, the CEO won’t know there’s a problem until complaints come in. Elon Musk didn’t.
Spectacular instances of automation failure include Healthcare.gov (2013), Knight Capital (lost $half a billion in a few seconds due to an automated trading error in 2012), and Tesla’s 2018 factory woes As Elon Musk confessed: “Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”
Philosopher Jay Richards, author of The Human Advantage: The Future of American Work in an Age of Smart Machines, argues that workers must not underrate themselves. Automation frees us for jobs that offer more creativity and autonomy than many traditional jobs do (or ever could):
If technology led to permanent unemployment for the masses, history would be one long, dismal story of expanding joblessness. Obviously, it’s not. Paradoxically, without the technological progress that led to fears of job loss, the global economy could not sustain the billions of jobs and human beings it now does.Jay Richards, “Universal basic income fuels bad economics” at Mind Matters News
As he outlines in The Human Advantage, most jobs today did not even exist back when most people toiled in the fields and standards of living were low. As automation raises living standards, more people use services once available only to the wealthy. Think of dental hygiene and fitness coaching, for example. More people are now in the business of providing the services, using advanced technology to improve services while lowering lower prices.
If we look at industry, robots that can work together as construction teams will eliminate many traditional jobs. But as the price of the robots declines, enterprising workers can buy them and thus increase their own income and productivity.
Richards argues that what really distinguishes humans is our capacity for developing creative freedom. If that capacity is automated out of a system, we can expect to hear about many avoidable failures.
See also: Maybe the robot will do you a favor and snatch your job The historical pattern is that drudgery gets automated, not creativity.
Swarm Printing: Are AI robots tomorrow’s construction workers?