Should the government promote automation?
Automation has evolved so much and at such a rapid pace that it is now everywhere, leaving many wondering whether this truly is only a positive development and whether the government should be promoting it further
Rise of the Issue
From self-check-out at the grocery store to cloud-based systems to store your government information, automation is everywhere, and while some welcome the increased efficiency of automated systems, others worry about the unintended consequences. Loss of jobs and risks of cyberattacks have some concerned that automation is not the positive advancement it was set out to be. Yet, automation has now become a cornerstone of our modern society and continues to be increasingly used throughout the public as well as the private sector.
On the two sides of the debate are those who think that the benefits of automation in terms of efficiency, productivity and convenience far outweigh its risks, and those who are scared of how automation might evolve in the future into something that could infringe on citizens’ security.
1st cent. BC
Greeks and Romans Use the Water Wheel
Often considered the first form of automation, the ancient Greeks and Romans used a water wheel to grind grain into flour.
James Hargreaves Invents Spinning Jenny
This yarn-spinning machine allowed workers to produce multiple spools of thread at the same time. This was a significant aspect of the First Industrial Revolution.
Edison Invents the Light Bulb
The use of electricity and this new artificial lighting was a luxury at first, and many people were worried about the risks. But by the 1930s, half of American households had electricity.
President Johnson Receives “The Triple Revolution” Memorandum
Crafted by a group of social activists, professors and technologists, the memorandum set out a list of concerns – primarily about the “Cybernation Revolution” – on how machines will take over human jobs.
Personal Computers Become Commonplace
The PC industry managed to create computers small and inexpensive enough to be purchased by companies and individuals. They became a staple for office life.
Amazon Launches “Hands off the Wheel”
The company aimed to automate as much as possible, so their staff could work on other tasks such as innovation. This initiative has led the company to be known for their automated warehouses, delivery systems and fully automated stores.
Humans vs Machines
While proponents love the idea of automation for how it removes human error through increased efficiency, time management, and systematization more generally, those against fear that such a society will become increasingly efficiency- and productivity-driven, and risks becoming dehumanizing.
Opponents point out the jobs that will be made redundant and ultimately lost because of automation, while supporters highlight the new jobs that automation would create in its place, as well as the increased quality and comfort of those roles.
While one side believes that more automation leads to more control over processes and increases efficiency as well as safety, the other side sees too much automation as a way to leave people’s security in the hands of machines which could spin out of control.
Automation increases efficiency.
A computerized task can be executed faster and with more accuracy than a human worker is able to achieve.
Automation saves costs in the long run.
Using automated systems makes for a more efficient use of resources, saving money in the long term.
Automation makes production processes less labor intensive for workers.
Since workers have to focus less on manually producing goods, they have more time for management, training or development that require human interaction.
Automation creates more consistency and stability.
With less room for human error or discretion on the part of workers, business outcomes will be more consistent.
Automation creates new types of jobs.
Installing, programming, repairing and maintaining automated systems are all examples of jobs created by increased automation.
Automation causes people to lose their jobs.
The work that the automated systems will do, were previously done by human beings – who will lose their jobs as a result.
Automating systems costs money.
It often takes a significant investment to achieve a fully functioning automated system, from the machines to the programming and more.
Automated systems can become redundant.
In an ever-innovating world, automated systems can quickly become redundant if they are not adaptable enough. This could happen before there is enough time to earn back an investment.
Automated systems can be vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Switching from paper to computers creates a new set of cyber security risks that can significantly damage a business, organization, or government agency.
Automation could lead to new safety hazards.
Especially when operating conditions change unexpectedly, computerized systems might not immediately be able to adapt, leaving the door open to safety risks.