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The Future of Automation in America, written by Janelle Davis

A few years ago at an airport in Florida, I remember a memorable experience while dining at Chili’s for breakfast. The peculiar thing was that a waiter or waitress never approached us to jot down our orders. Instead, plain black tablets stationed at each booth recorded every diners' request and sent it directly to the kitchen. Additionally, while at the grocery store aisles, I recall a form of customer service robot rolling through, asking if customers required assistance. Indeed, automated services sparsely existed in the beginning of the 21st century, although automation has claimed an increasing presence in the world in recent years.


Plans for the Advancement of Automation


In the industrialized country of the United States, introducing greater amounts of automation

across the states is the next major technological transformation. The U.S. government has indicated an interest in expanding automation in industries as a means to boost the nation’s economy and to push for modernization. Consequently, plenty of minimum wage jobs and interactive professions across the country seem highly susceptible to replacement. According to Dr.Frey and Dr.Osborne of Oxford University, “47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category". This meant that associated occupations are susceptible to being automatized, perhaps in a decade or two.


A domain in which America's progress in automation could be noticeably compared would be within the realm of self service retail. In Japan, vending machines exist in abundance throughout residences and public zones. However, although kiosks and checkout stations do seemingly hold higher relevance than vending systems in the U.S., most reputable retail companies are beginning to equip their stores with multiple self checkout stations. Additionally, a growing trend for restaurants and other various eateries is to offer customers the option to order from a kiosk rather than interacting with a waiter. Even merely using a phone app or ordering online are unmistakable examples of technology replacing low-skilled labor. In spite of these types of automated systems being largely used in the states however, it is not at a scale which makes the country the most competitive. Comparative to other countries, America has room to improve in its efforts to integrate machines into the workplace, with automation within its manufacturing industry lagging behind six other nations.


Covid-19 and More Automated Jobs


In 2020 the Coronavirus has disrupted the operations of businesses and workplaces

throughout the world. Unfortunately, the United States of America currently leads the world in

Covid-19 cases and deaths. Therefore, the country is especially struggling with reopening economic sectors such as stores and factories. Many citizens experienced job losses and some remain unemployed in the midst of the pandemic. Yet, individuals employed at essential businesses like grocery stores are back in attendance. While these businesses may be open, they are required to comply with brand new rules and regulations. Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) guidelines along with local and federal government mandates, it’s far from business as usual.


To manage social distancing, occupancy limits and other health regulations, businesses should adopt new ways to operate. Relying on automated machines to complete the jobs of human workers is a logical option to limiting the spread of the virus. The chances of transmitting the virus airborne or through droplets can decrease significantly if less people were to interact with each other face to face. In addition to preventing customers from getting infected, businesses can limit health issues among their workers as well. In a store made up of mostly invulnerable workers or automated machines, sick workers may have a lesser impact on businesses as the ramifications of being short staffed can be minimized. Businesses could also sustain themselves through the low costing maintenance of automated machines, relative to workers' wages, especially in face of the current recession. As Covid-19 has increased the demand of particular goods and services, automation could also render workplaces more efficient at meeting the needs of consumers through increased supply. Indeed, the advantages to using automated technology during the difficulties of the pandemic will likely expedite the transition to more machines.


The Future Impacts of Automation


Implementing more automation into everyday life has its ups and downs for lives in America. A surge of job opportunities will open for careers in the STEM fields, since individuals will be needed to program machines and continue to maintain them. For example, professionals in fields of information technology are likely to become highly sought after. Naturally, people will invent and utilize new ways to use automation. This will help to advance technology overall in the future with innovations.


While automation does ferry in more opportunities for some, it will be detrimental to the livelihoods of others. Replacing human labor with technology will cause jobs to become scarce, especially for unskilled laborers. Individuals without higher education may struggle with little access to low-skilled employment. In fact, MIT Technology Review predicts that as many as 83% percent of jobs paying less than $20 per hour are at risk of replacement by automation. At the same time, it’s likely fields such as computer science may become over saturated, with added employment incentives in certain STEM fields. This could mean a loss of professions related to art or music, as society may progressively view them as less profitable careers. A remedy to this would be to supply communities with new and more affordable educational opportunities, with possibly more government economic policies to support workers too during the transition towards a more automatized economy. With the inevitably of increasing automation, machines must be regulated to coexist with human workers in the workforce, to avoid severe impediments to employment.



References

  1. Crowe, Steve. “10 Most Automated Countries in the World.” The Robot Report, 8 Feb. 2018, www.therobotreport.com/10-automated-countries-in-the-world.

  2. Frey, Carl Benedikt, and Michael A. Osborne. “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 114, 2017, pp. 254–80. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2016.08.019.

  3. “Global Process Automation Industry: Growth, Trends and Forecast (2020-2025) -ResearchAndMarkets.Com.” Business Wire, 22 June 2020, www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200622005325/en/Global-Process-Automation-Industry-Growth-Trends-Forecast.

  4. “Number and Change of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases and Deaths among the Most Impacted Countries Worldwide as of August 17, 2020.” Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/1105264/coronavirus-covid-19-cases-most-affected-countries-worldwide.

  5. Rotman, David. “The Relentless Pace of Automation.” MIT Technology Review, 13 Feb. 2017, www.technologyreview.com/2017/02/13/153772/the-relentless-pace-of-automation.

  6. Watson, Stephanie. “How Does Coronavirus Spread?” WebMD, 19 Mar. 2020, www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus-transmission-overview#1.

  7. “What Is Automation?.” ISA, www.isa.org/about-isa/what-is-automation.

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