Where is automation technology bringing us? We hear buzzwords like Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things being flung around in the industrial automation world quite recently.
Moore’s Law states that the processing power for computers will double every two years. The evidence is all around us, both in consumer and industrial technology. Seeing how things are going on the technological front, smart, connected products ultimately can function with complete autonomy. Human operators merely monitor performance or watch over the fleet or the system, rather than over individual units. Nevertheless, perhaps we have not taken notice that it may be leading to the destruction of the very institution which provides its fuel, capitalism. Technology has been such an incredible success in maintaining this exponential growth that we hardly noticed the harm done to the planet or to our global human capital.
Therefore, will we witness the period when robots and automation will replace everything we do? The future of the human workforce comes into consideration.
In the capitalist industrial world, one of the main reasons manufacturing businesses are very keen on automation is to reduce costs. With the increasing application of automation in manufacturing processes, a huge portion of these costs are lowered by the consequent reduction of the labor force. However, curbing costs would not be so feasible if the number of jobs – and income – is drastically and ultimately reduced. According to Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labor, “Technological change provides us with great benefits, but requires fewer and fewer people to actually do the work. The robots are going to do more and more. We’ve got to seriously think about how we widen the circle of prosperity, how we get shared prosperity.” He summed it up well by adding, “Otherwise, who’s going to be the customer?” There will be a feedback mechanism at work here, and it will be interesting to see what will happen. Perhaps we will need a new economic and educational model to cope with the reduction of human labor and income vs. the surplus production made possible by increased automation.
The education system needs to lead the adjustment. Profits from automation should go into providing free education for all. In the economical sense, perhaps we could move away from a scarcity-based capitalist economy and everyone in the world could obtain an Unconditional Basic Income to cover all the basic needs for a decent living. And then with all basic needs being met, humans would possess more free time to pursue their personal interests, and focus on bigger things like a full-scale cleaning up of the environment and making the Earth a better place to live in for a start, inventing more efficient modes of travel, delve deeper into space exploration, or intensive research into curing diseases. Of course, all of this sounds very Utopian to begin with, and it will not come without challenges and disagreements between parties who possess staunch capitalist and socialist points of views, respectively.
By and large, the advancement of automation technology and its increasing implementation in manufacturing processes as well as for more complex occupational tasks in the future is inevitable. The increase in automation will, however, lead to the immediate need for more people to be able to install and maintain industrial equipment, as well as more people who will be selling them across the globe just as how business professionals in the industry are currently doing it on B4 Network by connecting with each other.
With automation technology becoming more and more sophisticated, the future is exponentially changing. Hopefully humanity will be able to cope with the dramatic rate of change, and that the positive effects will outweigh the negatives.
It will be very interesting to see how it will all pan out.