Robots: Future Business Automation That Will Impact Human Workers

6 minute read

Upland Admin

A look ahead into the years to come

Happy New Year! I wish you all great success in 2015!

Many people write and talk about year-end reviews or upcoming trends. Today, I’ll be taking on the latter for a little bit, but at a higher level. For much of 2014, you’ve seen us talk about how adopting automation really helps improve employee output and earn more money overall. But we never really touched on how the role of workers as a whole can be impacted. Well, today we will!

Moore’s Law

There’s a pretty well-known law called Moore’s Law. In simplest terms, Moore’s Law states that computer processing power will double every two years. This doubling comes from the number of transistors on the central processing units of computers doubling every two years.

Moore’s Law shows us that the power of technology doubles quickly and drives down costs swiftly. This means that technology becomes ever more useful, cheaper, and accessible to a larger number of people over a short period of time. Just for reference: The first Cray supercomputer (Cray-1) in 1976 had a clock speed of 80 MHz, had 8MB of RAM, weighed 5.5 tons, and cost between $5 and $8 million. A single smartphone today has clock speeds measured in GHz, holds gigabytes of RAM, and barely weighs 5 ounces. And, if it’s part of a phone plan package, the smartphone might even come for free.

The power and cost of machines have reached a point where they can (and have) replaced humans on certain jobs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – having machines do work that is very dangerous or too demanding helps human workers. Right now, using robots instead of people for tasks that do not need much cognitive effort is still a fairly pricey process, but that high cost isn’t going to last. It’s already not prohibitive, and it could soon be cheaper than human labour found anywhere on earth.

Machine vs. man

It’s worth taking a look at the advantages of a robot workforce. Beyond needing regular maintenance and repairs, machines:

  • Do not get tired
  • Do not become weaker and slower with age
  • Can perform the same task every day, all day long with high consistency and without boredom reducing output
  • Do not require actual payment – major cost only comes from initial purchase
  • Have unit cost to output ratios that go down as they become better at what they do
  • Easy to upgrade

People, on the other hand:

  • Can only work so many hours in a row before requiring breaks due to fatigue
  • Will become weaker and slower with age
  • Will get bored
  • Have a range of quality consistency
  • Can get hurt and do not always follow instructions
  • Expect to be paid more for doing their job more effectively
  • Hard to upgrade

What does an increase in machines mean for society?

Using robots to produce goods should mean that the cost of goods decrease. It takes less time to make more goods, and the quality of machine-made goods is higher. There is a dark side to all this, though: Many people can lose their jobs, or never get them in the first place.

One of the logical endpoints of Moore’s Law is that even workers who earn close to nothing doing assembly line work in developing nations won’t be able to compete with machines in the future. In fact, it’s already started.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Foxconn installed 10,000 robots in 2011 to do jobs such as welding and painting. It’s now installing 30,000 robots each year at a cost of $20,000 each, and has the goal of having one million such robots. Now, Foxconn has said that it won’t lay off its million-strong human workforce. But, it’s a safe bet that as the workers retire, new humans won’t be hired…

For the moment, our jobs are still pretty secure. Computer IQs are still fairly low, with only the most advanced machines having what we’d consider average IQ –  although that’s going to change in the next decade or so. We really should have a serious game plan for that point in time.

Machines are the future. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Business automation allows better development and delivery of products. It cuts down on total costs (and stretch IT budget), leading to better prices for end users. In the present, the need for highly-skilled workers spikes upwards, as they’re the ones who develop and maintain machines and other forms of automation.

We should note that better productivity won’t just come from technically-minded employees only. Automation frees up everyone to truly tap into their creative sides to devise better strategies and drive company growth by working smarter. This is, of course, small comfort to the employees who might be left behind.

For the moment, I really don’t have the answers to this issue. Managing technology disruptions is never easy, and it can’t be done without a great deal of study and research.  What I can note for now is this:

  • We can work smarter now, and we should – making the most of current technology and automation to safely manufacture high-quality products can only help more people.
  • We shouldn’t ever rely on technology to do our thinking for us.
  • Plan for the future starting now. We have some years before most machines catch up to our IQ – it’s time enough to figure out how to get both the benefits of machine workers and raise the availability of jobs for human staff.

I’d say that, ultimately, the future of human workers is rooted in making smart use of resources that machines haven’t mastered (and likely won’t, for a very long time): Human creativity and innovation. We’d better do it, too – it’s the only real way to thrive.

Final words for now

Learn to work smarter now so that you’ll be able to work even smarter later. Track and manage everything you have; turn today’s improved efficiency into tomorrow’s greater output. Better manage your technology so that you can stretch your IT budget.  If you need help doing this, contact us at Cimpl! As Canada’s leader in IT and telecom expense management we have been helping give companies greater visibility over all their IT and telecom assets for nearly 15 years. Our Cimpl software will help you get the most out of your IT spend!

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