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The False Dichotomy of Smart Technologies

The False Dichotomy of Smart Technologies

For years, we’ve heard about how machines are coming for our jobs. We may even know some people who have been replaced by machines of some sort. This has given workers an overarching fear that once the machines are smart and capable enough to do what they do, that they will be out on their cans with few real options. This is mostly a fallacy. Today, we will explore the notion that machines are out for our jobs and how they may actually work to make our jobs better. 

The Correlation Between Automation and Downsizing

There is no secret that in order to run a business effectively you have to spend less than you take in. It seems like pretty simple math, but unless you’ve worked in management, you’d be surprised how little shifts in business make this possible sometimes. One regrettable way a company cuts their costs is to let their workers go. After all, payroll is still one of (if not the) largest expenses many businesses have. With new technologies being introduced that make it possible to replace the work of certain employees, it can cause some consternation and fear among the workforce. 

Some workers are going to lose their jobs due to automation, that much is true. Some people--mostly those who had jobs that computer-based machines can do much faster and much better--will be casualties of their business’ shift in strategy. A good manager will find the resource that does the job that’s needed more effectively, and in today’s business environment, many times these are AI-driven smart technologies. That’s not to say that smart technologies don’t offer other opportunities for some workers, however. 

Let’s take a brief look at one industry that is primed to be overtaken by automation: truck drivers. Today, several manufacturers are creating technologies designed to ship goods from one place to another using autonomous vehicles. This has been in the works for a while now, and it looks as if the technology is going to be a major disruptor in that industry. For decades, truckers were protected by unions, but as the unions started to lose their power, many became independent contractors. This leaves them no hope if the businesses they currently drive truck for start purchasing and using automated vehicles to move goods.

Furthermore, the aging truck driver may not have the skills necessary to compete for a similarly-paying job. The fear is that as technology becomes a disruptor in industries like this that the people that are cast out won’t have the resources to educate themselves for a new job; leaving those people to work lower-wage jobs, or worse yet, become dependent on the government. The business, which always wants to do more with less, can, but workers that are cast aside by this newfound efficiency become a cautionary tale. This is not ideal for anyone. 

Strange, But True

This us vs. them story is the way of business. Competition is said to make the market economy possible. What isn’t often mentioned is that automated systems don’t have to replace workers. They will to some degree, of course, but the lion’s share of workers can thrive with the use of automated systems; especially the ones that learn as they go. Why is this narrative not observed more? It’s simple, the story of a person whose job responsibilities change with the deployment of AI isn’t as interesting as a story about swaths of workers that are displaced by corporate greed. 

The truth is that many businesses will be using automation to make their employees’ work experiences better. There are a lot of procedural tasks that need to be completed, there are emails to be written and sent out, there are reports to be run. This is true whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a mom-and-pop pizzeria. The truth is that as it stands today there are a minimal amount of tasks that can (or should) be completed by smart tech. Automation can actually have an extremely positive impact on people’s ability to do work. It can allow businesses to cut costs while also providing a pathway to get their workers to focus completely on revenue-growing tasks. So the dichotomy between automation and the modern workforce doesn’t necessarily have to be disruptive, it can also be good for both the business and the worker. 

For the company that is making the choice about increasing the prevalence of automation over the next few years, their workforce will be at the forefront of this shift, not left behind like many have projected. Let’s go back to the automated trucks. Every automated truck so far has required there be a passenger (driver) in the truck at all times to ensure things go smoothly. These shipping professionals may not be driving the truck as they did in the past, but they are still employed and with the benefits that automation brings to the industry, they will still be paid in line with what they were making when they were the operator of the vehicle. Companies will save money on logistics, fuel costs, and more, but as of this writing there aren’t many plans to cut out these professionals, just alter the job a bit. 

What are your thoughts about automation and smart technology’s effect on the modern worker? Do you think that these smart systems will eventually replace the skilled labor fields, or do you think that people and machines can work in concert to provide better work environments and stabilize rising costs? Leave your thoughts about this issue in the comments section below. 

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Wednesday, May 18 2022

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