I) Introduction - Automation

Jobs that are permanent with regular hours are being replaced by clever robots. This is creating greater uncertainty and ambiguity. On the other hand, it may be the start of a more humanised, fulfilling and flexible existence.

High-tech meeting human touch


It is estimated that around 50% of occupational categories and jobs are under threat from technology, eg automation (Chris Schutte, 2021). However, there is expected to be an increasing demand for jobs requiring more cognitive dexterity. As of yet machines are not suitable for jobs/occupations which focus on 'soft skills', ie emotions, relationships, feelings, etc.

There are predictions of extreme technological unemployment, ie a large number of an existing workforce become jobless, outclassed by increasingly sophisticated machines

"...human history is all about the automation of work. Right from the plough through to the spinning jenny through to the automobile, through to any number of other inventions..."
Ross Dawson as quoted by Rachel Nickless 2016a

Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. Generally automation has ended the least desirable, tedious, repetitious human jobs like manual labour, assembly-lines, etc.

The newly created jobs are better suited to our unique human capabilities like decision-making, communications, inspirational synthesis, etc.

Generally machines are no good at dealing with unpredictable situations. On the other hand, this is changing, ie
- driverless cars are doing what was once seen as an uniquely human role
- increasing use of machines in white-collar, professional industries like legal, medical, etc

Machines are becoming powerful collaborators, ie in many domains humans working with the machines are superior to machines working alone or humans working alone. For example, IBM Watson is helping doctors diagnose and treat patients suffering from cancer. Watson can scan and synthesise the medical literature and empirical evidence far better and faster than any human. Then doctors can use this information to exercise their judgement.

Defining of roles and tasks within an organisation is less needed now. This will put less constraint so that they are able to draw on the full breadth of capabilities of the people and machines inside an organisation; by seeing themselves as a network of people, ideas and capabilities they become more fluid, adaptable and participatory. 

Continuous learning is an important part of this process. also individuals must take responsibility for their learning development, with the organisation providing facilities for that development.

An example the more adaptable and flexible structure is Morning Star (the world's largest tomato processor) has been operating a holacracy for half a century. There are no job titles, hierarchy or defined roles.  When you join the organisation, who actually interviews you, works out what role is best for you and the organisation is completely fluid and negotiated between all the people in your team.

Automation is a two-edged sword as it involves handing over tasks to machines. There is an increasing focus on changing from labour-saving devices to software automation, ie doctors using computers to make diagnoses and perform surgery; bankers to research and trade finances; architects to design buildings; lawyers in document discovery, etc.

"Computers can be programmed to perform complex activities in which a succession of tightly coordinated tasks is carried out through an evaluation of many variables. Many software programs take on intellectual work - observing and sensing, analysing and judging, even making decisions - that until recently was considered the preserve of humans. This may leave the person operating the computer to play the role of a high-tech clerk - entering data, monitoring outputs and watching the failures. Rather than opening new frontiers of thought and action, software ends up focus. We trade subtle, specialised talents for more routine, less distinct ones"

Nicholas Carr, 2013

"...as computers get more sophisticated and robots increasingly adept, rising numbers of workers will be replaced by machines and algorithms..."
Jacob Greber, 2014

Robots are continuing to evolve, ie a recent example of a robot building IKEA's furniture demonstrates its evolution (2018). It shows the need for perception, planning, control between the robot and the environment, ability to use 2 arms simultaneously to carry an object, etc. Thus 

"...robots have taken our jobs, learnt our chores and beaten us at our own games..."

Niraj Chokshi, 2018

An example is the impact of drones (unmanned aircraft) in the increasing their non-military usage. Drones were initially developed for military use but mini drones have been developed for
- delivering parcels
- delivering medical equipment, ie they can deliver equipment in 1/10th of the time it takes for an ambulance to do the same job
- taking aerial photos, eg helping firefighters understand fires (SBS, 2014b)

It is hoped that the new industries created by technology will generate new jobs. Unfortunately, jobs vulnerable to technology are being lost faster than new occupations appearing.

A tertiary education and/or white-collar job is not safeguard against automation. On the other hand, some research (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014) found a number of non-tertiary qualified jobs are increasing. these include nursing aides, electricians, carpenters and hospitality workers

Furthermore, software is being used to carry out everyday routines, like shopping, socializing, researching, directions, etc. The exponential growth in computer power is changing the nature of work in every job and profession


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