Automation In the Modern Economy


Automation encompasses a broad range of technologies that are used to automate a broad range of tasks across across all industries. There is not a single technology like robotics that you can pinpoint as the source of automation so it's important to remember this when thinking about automation and the associated risks/opportunities. So what is automation then? In the simplest terms, automation can be broken into three basic categories:

  • Software Automation: these are systems designed by automation engineers to replicate as many tasks as possible for every occupation within a company and/or industry. These systems are generally designed to replace office and task based workers. That is, any job that involves doing the same task with the same general inputs and corresponding outputs. 
  • Robotic Automation: this is automation software that has a physical extension to interact with work around it. These systems can range from smart sorting systems, automated warehouse transporters, general purpose robotics like Baxter, narrow robotic systems in factory assembly. These systems are designed to replace the repetitive physical tasks which are traditionally done by low, medium and high skilled labor. 
  • Artificial Intelligence Automation: this is an automation that replaced the cognitive work done by workers across all levels of work in all industries. AI Automation is the most disruptive of automation technologies given its broad and flexible applicability to all industries and levels of work. As AI Automation technology advances there will be very few occupations that will not be disrupted. If you would like to learn more about the impact of artificial intelligence and how it works check out my section on AI here. 

Most jobs are at risk of being automated in the next 10 years in one form or another by one of the two systems listed above. What is important is to understand the technology and trends of automation in your local and international market place relative to your industry. This way you can best positioned yourself for the coming changes in the labor market and benefit.

I've listed some of the most disruptive technologies related to automation. This is by no means an exhaustive list but does give you a solid foundation to begin identifying other technologies and trends related to automation.  

Software Automation

Software Automation is the actual program that will run the automation of workers jobs whether it is physical or digital only. Systems designed by automation engineers will be completely invisible to the eye as they will run on a sever far away from the physical site where the work was once done.  

The software programs will pull on information generated from IoT devices in many cases to provide the system the data necessary to make choices, selections or recommendations on an automated basis.  

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a powerful and disruptive classification of technologies where everyday devices (or things) are connected either directly or indirectly to the internet. Video systems, cell phones, tablets, smart watches, environmental sensors, car sensors, body implants and a broad range of other devices are used to automatically gather and record massive amounts of structured and unstructured data in continuously real time.

The collected data can be used to monitor systems, locations or other places that might otherwise need to be checked in on by a worker. Elevators that have IoT sensors are able to notify the maintenance company in advance of a breakdown or malfunction so that the issue can be avoided ahead of time. Smart factories using IoT technologies throughout the system are able to run smoother and without interruption since system are self analyzing and avoiding potential issues before they become a problem.     


Robotics + Smart Factories

Robotics and Smart Factories are replacing workers with IoT devices and robotic replacements within the factory. Simple IoT devices are being implemented within factories to monitor the systems and processes in real time where in the past a worker was needed to oversee the process. At the same time, narrow and general robotics are being implemented in factories to remove workers from the process in general. 

Self Driving Cars, Trucks and Buses

Self driving vehicles are prime examples of automation not just in out personal lives but also in the professional lives of the roughly 17 percent of the world population who work as professional drivers in one capacity or another. That's roughly 1.24 billion people who will have jobs that will be impacted.