Regardless of the impact of automation on jobs in the future, it is instructive to examine the effect it is currently having during the COVID-19 pandemic. In today’s uncertain economic environment. Some people argue that companies will accelerate the implementation of automation to meet the challenges of the pandemic. As the pandemic continues, the age-old debate about whether automation creates or kills jobs takes a new turn.
The nature of automation is changing rapidly and job destruction is not necessarily guaranteed. If we look at examples from the past, such as the Industrial Revolution, technology led to job destruction but ultimately created new jobs overall.
The benefits of automation in business
Imagine a data engineer using a data management platform to automate a cloud migration. This type of automation removes monotonous tasks from her plate and frees her to focus on critical tasks that require her expertise.
The situation is different from previous forms of automation, where machines completely replaced auto assembly workers. That was the automation debate before the Covid-19 pandemic, just a few months ago. Since then, the nature of work has changed dramatically, perhaps forever. This has caused many people to re-evaluate the future of automation.
Despite all the job-killing rhetoric, automation is actually helping workers stay safe and be more efficient during the pandemic. Automation is fundamentally about removing human beings from work processes. This creates efficiency gains under normal circumstances, but with COVID-19, this erasure of human touch-points also improves safety.
Physical distancing with automation
Automation can spare workers, especially frontline officers – including grocery store staff, nurses, hospital secretaries, and police officers – from additional human contact. Automatic payments, machine-learning-based medical imaging, automated intake forms, and AI-based identity detection can all limit human contact and prevent the spread of the virus.
The efficiency gains generated by automation in business also take on new importance during COVID-19. Imagine a doctor stuck in his office filling out insurance forms. An automated computer vision program could scan these documents, extract the data and generate complete insurance files. It allows the doctor to do what he/she does best: treat patients.
Automation can also reduce costly human errors. For example, the automation of control systems can reduce medical interpretation errors in overcrowded hospitals.
Will automation take over our workplace?
Ultimately, the amount of work interruption could depend on the virus itself. If a vaccine is ready by the end of the year, companies may not rush to automation. However, if the virus continues to drag on until 2022, automation could become a more attractive solution.
For most small businesses, automation will be an unmanageable expense. Larger companies are more likely to invest in the necessary infrastructure and staff training. No one can predict the future for sure, but we can see what automation means right now. It’s true that many jobs are “exposed” to elimination, but one of the main impacts of automation during the pandemic is to make roles safer and more efficient. Only time will tell if the automation disruption during the pandemic is significant, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case in the future.