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Mace & Crown | March 25, 2017

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Automation and the Future of Jobs

Audra Reigle
Assistant Technology Editor

Robots are seemingly taking over the world. Specifically, it can feel like they’re taking over your jobs and job opportunities. Slowly but surely, more companies are bringing on robots to replace humans as employees. Between the politics of wage and the cost-effectiveness of machines, the switch to automation seems inevitable.

Around the world and across the U.S., companies are transitioning to automation to meet the demands of the current market. A Chinese factory has replaced its workers with robots, according to ZME Science. Changying Precision Technology Company has dropped their employee count from 650 to 60. The company’s general manager, Luo Weiqiang, plans to drop that number to 20. There has been a 250 percent increase at the company, which focuses on cell phone production, despite only having 60 workers.

Then there was the first automated factory by Adidas that was announced in 2015. Dubbed Speedfactory, the company planned to open a factory in Germany in 2016 to produce 500 pairs of shoes. The German factory was a pilot, but there were plans to set up similar factories that would be connected across the world.

Adidas now has plans to open a Speedfactory in Atlanta this year, according to TechCrunch. This will be the second factory opened by the company, and it has an output of 50,000 shoes per year. However, the factory will also have humans in the building, as the company plans to create about 160 jobs to oversee the factory.

The question of what jobs could be automated depends on the job itself. Somewhat surprisingly, automation is not concerned with whether or not a job is manual, according to The Economist. It is concerned with whether or not the job is routine. “Machines can already do many forms of routine manual labor, and are now able to perform some routine cognitive tasks,” The Economist article said. As time passes, more and more jobs will be able to have complex tasks broken down into routine tasks. That will allow for automation to work on those routine tasks instead of a human.

However, that does not mean that humans will be out of a job. “Automating a particular task, so that it can be done more quickly and cheaply, increases the demand for human workers to do the other tasks around it that have not been automated,” The Economist said.

For those hoping that the current administration would be bringing back their jobs, it would seem that promise might be getting more distant. Reuters reports that more jobs could turn to automation under the Trump Administration. Carrier, an air conditioning company that planned to move jobs to Mexico, has announced that they are going to move towards automation instead. “Some 80 percent of companies that plan to cut jobs in the next year expect to partially replace workers with automation,” according to Reuters.

“Currently, only 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated, but 60 percent of occupations could soon see machines doing 30 percent or more of the work,” according to the Washington Post. Automation could take over 45 percent of jobs in the U.S. So for those fearful of losing their jobs, perhaps it was not other people who are to blame.

While it’s going to be a while before robots completely take over jobs, the switch is inevitable. There are robots and 3D printers that can do jobs quicker and efficiently, allowing businesses to produce more for less money in less time. However, that doesn’t mean jobs will be completely lost. Humans will still be needed to make sure the robots are operating properly and fix them if there are any issues. There also lies some hope in the fact that machines are still incapable of performing much more specialized and nuanced jobs, those that were once dubbed as “artisan” jobs. So maybe robots taking our rote and routine jobs will allow us to focus on more creative or unique professions.