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Just How Far Will Automation Go?

Automation is a fact of life. For as long as humans have existed, we have sought ways to improve our lives through automation.

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While at the outset many automation innovations were to help with mundane tasks, we’re now seeing it creep into pretty much every facet of our daily lives.

Of course, this begs the question as to the ethics behind Artificial Intelligence, and how we need to be careful of how much power we place in the hands of machines.

It’s a subject we touched on before and one that we won’t get into right now. What we would like to discuss, though, is how far will automation take us in the near future. And perhaps even how far is too far?

Industry takes the lead

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Automation has been in the automotive industry for decades

Image credit: Photo by mixabest / CC BY-SA 3.0

As with many innovations that make their way into our everyday lives, automation was first pioneered by industrial leaders.

They took their manufacturing processes and found better and more efficient ways to create their products or provide their services. Many did this by replacing human workers with machines, which helped them make considerable savings on their financial outlays.

Of course, these machines required people to operate them, but with artificial intelligence now seemingly quite capable of handling such tasks, people are being slowly phased out of the manufacturing industry.

There are now fully automated factories that would have once employed thousands of people, manned only by a handful of engineers to maintain the machines. Incredibly, we’re seeing this type of automation leaving the industrial sector and entering the public space and yes, even our homes.

But most surprising is that we haven’t even noticed. Now, many of you might say that you don’t live in a smart home, or have an Alexa device. But do you have a dishwasher? Or how about an automatic vacuum cleaner, you know, like the Roomba?

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The truth is that automation has been in our lives for quite some time now, but it’s the advent of artificial intelligence that has finally made us sit up and take notice.

Robots to take over more than just menial jobs

It’s no surprise that many warehouse jobs and factory positions have been replaced by robots. These are jobs that are often repetitive in nature and which can be easily managed by a machine. But there are a few other jobs that are also at risk.

With the rise of Tesla and its competitors in the self-drive industry, it’s little wonder that the odds of a driver losing their job to automation are 97.8%. Think on that. Did you ever believe that drivers could realistically be replaced by robots in your lifetime? Not many would have, but it’s more likely than not.

In the healthcare industry, we now have incredible machines like the da Vinci surgical system, which allows a surgeon who is not present in the room – or even in the building – to operate on a patient using robotic arms.

Would it be such a stretch to imagine that artificial intelligence could soon be responsible for operating the machine? If we trust AI to drive our cars, then it’s just a matter of time before we trust it to operate on us.

Such a leap of faith would undoubtedly be good for patients, who might benefit from shorter waiting times and faster recovery. But could it also be the start of the end for many jobs? Doctors could be replaced by diagnostic machines while many nursing duties could be carried out by robots.

This opens up a whole new series of questions on what jobs could be affected by the use of AI and automation. Bus drivers will likely be replaced in the very near future, as will train drivers. Will we trust a machine to take control of an airplane?

Again, it’s possible but not quite likely just yet. How much we’re willing to allow machines to take control of depends on our nature as human beings.

People like power

The one thing that could stop automation in its tracks before it takes control of every aspect of our lives is human nature.

As people, we’re used to being in control of certain things and to allow a machine to take over feels wrong. This is why we may allow a taxi to be controlled by AI, but will shy away from the idea of the same AI flying a plane.

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With this in mind, we may not see quite as many job losses as experts predict. We must retain control of some aspects of our lives and that could very well see people such as chefs, pilots, doctors, and teachers never completely lose their jobs to automation.

Yes, automation will become much more prevalent in our daily lives as time goes by, but will it take over? Not a chance.

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Kingsley Felix
Blogger, Editor and Webmaster

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