Brief History Of Automation
As a concept, Automation has been around with us since the ancient days. From Ancient Greek, Arabic, Persian and Egyptian automation projects, such as clocks and auto-reloading siege engines, to modern day self opening doors or self driving cars. As a term however, the best way to describe Automation is to say that, "it is the application of machines to tasks once performed by human beings or, increasingly, to tasks that would otherwise be impossible. Although the term mechanization is often used to refer to the simple replacement of human labour by machines, automation generally implies the integration of machines into a self-governing system. Automation has revolutionized those areas in which it has been introduced, and there is scarcely an aspect of modern life that has been unaffected by it."
From the first tools, that were meant to magnify the strength a human possessed, we were led to the discovery of the wheel, the pulley and the lever. From that point on we were off to the races. With the first "automated" works that did not require human effort invented, such as the windmill, watermill or generally mill shaped things, humanity figured out that it was undoubtedly better to have things be done by their own while you sit around and contemplate existing.
Then things started getting real freaky, with ancient Greeks, Arabs and Chinese starting to get creative. The first simple reaction machines using steam, clocks and even early forms of computers were created, until by the first mechanical clock which was invented in around 1335. With more and more people experimenting with automation, this eventually led to the industrial age, and things just flat out got bonkers.
From the first car, to the digital computer, automation has changed humanity and the world around it in ways that perhaps we cannot even comprehend, as it is so incorporated in our lives it has changed the way us modern people think.
For a more detailed information, I would highly recommend you read this post by Encyclopedia Britannica on automation.
Risks and Benefits of Automation
Automation was always heralded with mixed feelings. From people concerned on what this would mean for their everyday lives, to those that were concerned about losing their jobs, automation is always heralded with distrust and skepticism. The reason is easy to understand off course. Automation replaces a job previously held by a worker, with an automated system, which does sound bad. So what is it? Is automation a good thing, or a bad thing? Well lets start with the Positives.
The Positives: Automation is meant to make our life easier, and more efficient. It is meant to be able to multiply our productivity, make more cost-efficient items, make labor safer and shorter. With our technology advancing every day, the very concept of automation is to one day provide a world in which our needs to survive and to profit are fully automated, allowing us to focus on maintaining and operating said equipment, allowing for plenty of spare time to pursue our other hobbies.
The Negatives: Progress in automation without restraint may lead to a number of problems. By exceeding the rate in which new technology can be understood and taught to the populace a very real risk of automation. When you remove a job from the market with an automated process, its best to make sure you replace those jobs with others, and make sure the people are educated enough to fulfill them. The negative aspect of this means that society needs to keep up. Unless education becomes available to ensure that everyone gets properly educated and trained in order to fulfill the new jobs created with automation.
The above however are not to say that automation necessarily replaces jobs. As Industry Week said in their article "In 2015, Autor published a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that explained why automation advances up to this point have not eliminated most jobs. His main premise: while workplace technologies may substitute for labor, those that cannot be substituted are generally complemented by it."
For example, ATM's may be an automated system, but they did not replace the work of Tellers, instead ATMs reduced the number of cash-handling tasks but technology provided new data on customers and thus new opportunities for banks to become more involved in relationship banking and so tellers became sales representatives.
As very astutely said by Encyclopedia Britannica in their post "These dangers aside, automation technology, if used wisely and effectively, can yield substantial opportunities for the future."
The Future Of Automation
So what does the future hold? Well, Automation so far has been mostly focused on industry and business, at least the automation that comes to mind when the term is dropped in conversation. With Shopify launching a POS system allowing businesses to link their online and retail stores together, in an ingenious move posted in their own page, we can expect to see more and more automated systems appear on our day to day lives. But that is not all there is to say on the matter.
Hubbard of SolarWinds notes that the term “automation” itself tends to spawn a lot of uncertainty and concern, not just in IT but across professional disciplines, and he says that concern is legitimate. To quote an article by Enterprisers Project: “This year we’ll likely see a decrease in automation anxiety and more organizations begin to embrace AI and machine learning as a way to augment their existing human resources,” Hubbard says. “Automation has historically created room for more jobs by lowering the cost and time required to accomplish smaller tasks and refocusing the workforce on things that cannot be automated and require human labor. The same will be true of AI and machine learning.”
With machine learning, nanotechnology and the strides in Artificial Intelligence, the future might greet us with fully automated factories, menial and sometimes hazardous jobs becoming a thing of the past.
Personally, I am leaning towards the skeptical side of the spectrum on this subject. Though the benefits are undeniable, and I am fully supportive of progress, I do think that caution should take the reigns, and ensure that our societies have the infrastructure and proper education specialists in order to make sure that the people who will be replaced by automation are able to be recycled back into the work force.