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Automation Takes Hold, But Humans Still Needed

According to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, as well others in the field of robotics, automation will eliminate some jobs but also help to create new ones.

Q1 2017
A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute — A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity — highlights trends in automation technologies — including robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning — and their effects on businesses and economies worldwide. Some of the key findings of the report are highlighted below:
  • Automating activities can reduce errors and improve quality, while improving productivity and, thereby, business performance.
  • Although less than 5 percent of all occupations can be fully automated, about 60 percent of occupations are comprised of at least 30 percent of activities that can be automated. Importantly, more occupations will change than be eliminated by automation.
  • Physical activities, which make up about 51 percent of all economic activities, are the most susceptible to automation. These activities are most prevalent in manufacturing, food service, retail, and some middle-skill jobs.
  • The feasibility and cost of technology will determine its pace and extent. Social and regulatory factors will also come into play.
  • In order to produce the per capita GDP growth to which countries worldwide aspire, people will need to continue working alongside machines.
  • Policymakers must recognize the benefits of policies that encourage investment in innovation, while simultaneously helping workers to adapt to new technologies through education and training and providing a safety net for those dislocated.
The authors of the report explain that today’s shift in workforce activities is similar to that previously seen in the shift from agriculture as well as the decreasing share of manufacturing employment in the U.S. Both of these shifts in employment were accompanied by the creation of new types of work not previously anticipated.

Experts in the field of robotics and automation would agree. For example, in an interview with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute Professor Howard Choset notes that robotics will help U.S. workers compete with low-wage workers abroad and will create and sustain new jobs. According to Professor Choset, “Automation and innovation always create jobs. Automation will also end jobs. However, the creation and addition of jobs is so much bigger that as a society we accept it.”

He sees robots as “just another tool” that companies need to employ. Business owners realize they must automate if they are going to become more productive and attract more customers and that, in turn, will lead to the creation of more jobs.

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