Wondering if you will ever lose your job to a robot or software or an automated system? Well, let’s assume you will.
This has been in the last hundred years — automation has been replacing humans in the workforce– from farms to factories to offices. In the 1960s, 60% of the Philippine workforce is found in the farms. Over the years, the local production of rice (the Philippines’ number 1 crop) has been dramatically increasing, but the workforce in the farms has been decreasing.
Look at the following change in the Philippine workforce through time:
According to Philip J. Vergragt, the dominant drivers of technological change are business interests and state and military-driven innovations. The high percentage of the Filipino workforce in the farms back in the 60s was a strong driver of automation in the agriculture sector.
Despite the increase in crop production, the emergence of farm machineries and other agricultural innovations cut the workforce in agriculture from 60% in 1960 to 31% today.
The dominance of agriculture in the workforce was over 50 years ago. Today, most of us are in the service sector (commerce, finance, transportation, communication, IT, public and private services). With about 53% of the Philippine workforce, it’s not surprising that the service sector is now the largest interest for technological change and innovations.
21st century question: I am part of the service sector’s workforce; will I ever lose my job to automation?
Assume that you will. Here are four areas where automation outperforms human:
Photo by Nathan Shelton
Automated systems are programmed to work faster or produce more output than humans. For example, a report that takes 2 hours to be produced manually can now be generated in 10 seconds using cloud computing. Take note of the difference: from hours to seconds.
Photo by Mark Anderson
Automated systems result to using fewer resources while creating the same or more output. A good example is the ATM (Automated Teller Machine). An ATM can be used to facilitate cash withdrawal and deposit at any time, compared to a human teller that works in the same bank that facilitates transactions only for 6 hours a day for five days a week.
Photo by Jan-Erik Ingvaldsen
As automation is applied to measurable jobs, it reduces errors and improves quality. The programmability of an automated system allows it to be adjustable until it meets the desired quality of output, hence eliminating human error.
Photo by Ken Reda
In line with productivity and efficiency, automated systems are put in place to reduce cost. As automated systems are more efficient, they turn out to be more cost-effective than human employees are.
Fine. I’ll lose my job to automation. What’s next for me?
The answer? A different role.
We’ll keep losing parts of our job to automation, but there will always be something left for us to do. We’ll keep answering the question, “What should humans do?” Or on a personal level, “What should I do now?”
In an article by Kevin Kelly, Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs, he summed up the relationship of humans with automation into four parts:
Photo by Kevin Kelly
Given this, the only jobs left for humans are found in quadrant D.
Every time we lose our job to automation, we’ll figure out something to do. And it will be a continuous cycle. However, the more competitive humans in the workforce are those who know or know better how to use or interact with the machines.
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For instance, in 1979 when the first computer spreadsheet program VisiCalc was introduced, we did away with manually calculated spreadsheets. According to Dan Bricklin, VisiCalc took 20 hours of work per week for some people and turned it out in 15 minutes and let them become much more creative.
The jobs of the accountants and financial analysts are still there. These days, we expect accountants and financial analysts to be good at using spreadsheets and other tools for analysis.
Will it come to the point that we’ll lose all our jobs to machines?
Yes. No. Maybe.
According to Max Mihelich of workforce.com, we’ll probably never live long enough to actually find out…