By Nick Eubanks
The long-term potential of automation and robot learning has a lot of people in the global workforce worrying about job security lately, and for good reason. Business owners, even in industries that aren’t hyper-focused on digitization, realize that human capital can be replaced by artificial intelligence to boost efficiency and lower production costs. The only hurdle left for most of them is finding a way to implement it.
I’m fascinated by opportunities for businesses to leverage automation to improve efficiency and their customer’s lives. Every month, we build out more and more automated sequences to connect data across our clients' marketing systems; and the increases to the bottom line have been staggering.
Switching from manual to automated processes is going to reshape every company’s workforce and fundamentally change the way people do business. It’s time we start thinking about the workforce differently, and how we train and educate people before they enter it. We need to drop the doom and gloom surrounding gains in automation technology and evaluate what we stand to gain from all of this.
The Middle Class And Skill-Biased Technical Change
We’ve dealt with the rapid development of technology in the past, but what we know grows exponentially every year. Unskilled laborers are going to face the biggest challenges, because the job market for them is going to shrink drastically.
McDonald’s, for example, is planning on swapping out its cashiers with digital kiosks. But even if corporations could afford to replace all of their human workers with robots, it might not be a smart business decision. Fast food and cheap dining options rely on the millennial generation to drive in revenue because of that demographic’s debt-to-income ratio. A lot of young adults right out of college, in college or in high school are either drowning in student loans and struggling to start their careers among all of the competition, or have very little money to begin with. Because of that, they are also willing to settle for jobs with low pay to float the bills until something better comes along.
If those jobs disappear across the entire food service industry, the demographic who supports these places the most may not have the spending power to sustain them.
The Need For Human Compassion Won’t Fade
Regardless of their qualification level, humans will always have one advantage over the digital community: the capacity for emotion. A journalist from Fortune magazine asked a group of business professionals about the role automation will play in the future. Leighanne Levensaler, SVP of corporate strategy at Workday, claimed that AI will be limited by our psychological need for human interaction: “We need to keep relationship skills. I went to an automated, self-serve restaurant the other day, and I felt so empty when I left. Contrast that with my coffee shop. We are hard-wired for relationships — you want the smile, the connection.”
Next to our biological need for food, water and security, we long to belong. No matter how thoroughly we train robots to do our jobs, we won’t be able to teach them human emotion. Robots will never be born with a natural talent for sales or the social skills needed to exhibit the characters of a good leader.
Automation can be adopted to replace basic administrative tasks, but robots can’t express the same empathy that is required in more sensitive professions (health, human resources, social services, etc.).
How Automation Can Improve Our Quality Of Life
Instead of outright rejecting automation, we should try to envision a more optimistic future. Handing off mundane work to AI will enable deeper engagement for humans. Robots can help free up valuable time for employees, allowing them to focus on tasks that are more fulfilling.
For example, almost every business has an accounts payable (AP) department scrambling to pay off its debt under a time crunch. Solving a monetary dispute can take days, if not weeks, and puts a lot of pressure on the staff that is trying to manage multiple accounts.
According to Ardent Partners, it costs the average AP department $13.04 and over 12 days to process an invoice where top-of-the-line automated AP departments’ cost per invoice is $2.87 and on average takes 3.9 days to process. Business owners are starting to move toward automating invoices with software because manual data-entry is time-consuming and not necessarily cost-effective in the long run. It also gives the AP department more flexibility by allowing the staff to focus on personal disputes that can’t be auto-corrected by automation.
Automation makes work easier. If you’re a smart business owner, you will keep your employees and increase your output. You can think of this in terms of growth strategy instead of being bogged down by all the rote tasks that are an inevitability in the business world.
Find A Balance And Remain Self-Sufficient
Humans have every right to remain skeptical of automation. Our dependence on technology can be a bit alarming sometimes, and we should be careful not to rely too heavily upon it. It’s one thing to bring to use automation and robots to make our lives easier and free up our hands for more significant work. There’s a certain level of understanding that only comes with knowing the processes of a task end-to-end. Besides, it’s nice to be self-sufficient if you need to be.
There is great potential to enhance our quality of life if we use automation productively. Most citizens would be happy to see government agencies implement more automated services to make their administrative employees more accessible. Most workers would be happy to leave repetitive, boring work and take on something that requires a higher level of thinking.
In a very near future, self-driving cars and drones will be the standard, not the exception. Automation isn’t going to replace the middle-class workforce completely, but it will require humanity to evolve.
People are going to have to reconsider their careers as technical changes continue to shape our society. Society as a whole requires some tweaking, especially in the way people view education. Colleges and universities will have to adapt coursework accordingly, the government will have to incentivize such programs, and people will have to buy in.
If the workforce continues to evolve this way, so must society.
Nick Eubanks is a serial entrepreneur, the VP of Digital Strategy at Traffic Safety Store and the Founder of I'm From The Future.