If you are in a mischievous mood to raise anxiety levels among a group of technologists just trigger this discussion, “How automation and robots will reduce employment in the future”.

There will be a fascinating discussion about driver-less cars and bot scanning for cancer patients.

A lot more energy will be expended on Doomsday predictions.

  • Robots will easily take over the job I am currently doing.
  • Skilled jobs will be taken over by smart machines.
  • There will be job adverts with the tag, ‘only robots may apply’ and many more.

Are these pessimistic predictions imperative or are these mere manifestations of people’s fears of the unseen future? To answer this question, let’s revisit some pivotal moments in the human history.

The industrial revolution of the 18th century gave birth to the textile industry. It was widely believed that the textile mills would destroy the handloom industry and cause great pain to everyone. This panic was spread on both sides of the Atlantic.

What followed was anything but anticipated. The cost of producing cloth declined significantly. Large mills came up and provided employment to a huge number of youth. Modern cities like Manchester, London and New York were born. Even more jobs were created in the secondary and tertiary sectors. This changed the face of urban development. And today 80% of the population in the developed world resides in urban areas.

In early 20th century, thanks in large measure to Henry Ford, cars became mainstream. There was the expected panic about the fate of horse carts. Yes, the horse carts dwindled, but Detroit was born. And America rose.

In the 1990s banks introduced ATMs and their adoption spread rapidly. Bank employees became very insecure expecting that most of their work will now be done by these machines and they would be rendered jobless. It is true that ATMs did takeover many of the manual tasks but rather than exterminating the poor bankers, they opened new doors to the banking industry. Banking activities became very efficient and extremely convenient. Hordes of unbanked people flocked to the banks, multi-channel banking became the norm raising the level of sophistication of the bankers’ work many notches above. ATMs turned out to be a boon to the bankers.

There is no historical precedence of automation or scientific progress causing regression in human lives. There are temporary setbacks no doubt but those are never long-lasting.

Society has always moved forward and taken people with it. Cheaper and stronger cloth by the textile mills protected the poor in harsh winters, motorized transport helped improve connectivity, ATMs enabled easy cash transactions. History is replete with such myriad examples.

Robots that make a pizza, smart drones that deliver them and robots performing surgeries, each of these might create short term pain in certain industries, however, the history of mankind leads me to predict that despite these blips in our lives, there will be more meaningful jobs and an overall better life awaiting us in the future. Exactly what kind of jobs and where is a question that remains to be answered by Father Time, not me!

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Posted by Amol Tope

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