Judging by some of the stories in the news recently, it’s game over for us human workers. We should just step aside as armies of robots march into our workplaces and start running our companies.
Because it has been estimated that 30 percent of jobs in the UK will be automated by 2030 with transport, manufacturing and retail being the areas most likely to be affected.
Experts also predict that the majority of vehicles on public roads will be driverless by 2045. And automation in construction has already arrived with robots capable of laying bricks.
So, while some of the news stories may seem over-the-top, it’s a subject that anyone who runs a business, especially one delivering mobile goods or services, should start to ponder.
Here are a few thoughts:
Technology creates new jobs
The focus when talking about automation tends to be on the risk of humans being replaced by robots. While this is understandable, it doesn’t provide a balanced view of the way technology works.
Because while new technology is liable to make some jobs obsolete, it also has a track record of creating whole rafts of new employment, roles that don’t currently exist.
Think of how many people are now employed in jobs that weren’t around 30 years ago: app developers, social media managers, data technicians and analysts. The same will be 30 years into the future.
Are robots suited to mobile work?
Automation and computer AI (Artificial Intelligence) works best when it’s used in a controlled environment with a predictable set of actions. That’s why computers are whizzes at chess and what makes driving an ideal task to be automated - with the limitations of a road network and a rigid set of rules.
But think about the average experience of a mobile worker and what they face is the exact opposite of that kind of predictable and controlled environment. They’re constantly in different locations and facing a multitude of challenges - in robot terms, it’s messy.
So while mobile workers may have assistance in getting to a location, it’s going to take some seriously clever robots before end services are able to be automated.
It’s a question of trust
Just because we have the ability to do something, it doesn’t mean we always do it. For the past 20 years or so, passenger jets have been able to fly themselves - so why do we still have pilots?
It’s because we’re not robots - we’re more complex. And, however irrational it may be, there are some things where we still want to have humans in control. This is particularly the case with anything which involves our safety.
So while machines may take on more of the dangerous and physically demanding jobs, they’re likely to be used under human supervision.
Will robots reduce running costs?
Something else worth thinking about is whether automation will actually make any financial sense for a business? Because consider the costs of having to maintain something like a brick laying machine.
It has to be moved, installed/uninstalled, checked, serviced, programmed, repaired and generally maintained. Each of these on-going tasks will at a cost which could be considerable for specialist services.
Compare that to the simplicity and cost efficiency of employing an experienced worker who requires a regular wage packet and the occasional cup of tea. In pure business terms, humans may prove to be hard to beat.
So whatever happens, there are some interesting times ahead for anyone managing a business as these alternative ways of working start to become accessible. But this is nothing new, ever since the Industrial Revolution we’ve had constant waves of game changing technology.
It’s something we’re experiencing at the moment as paper-based ways of work are replaced by faster and smarter digital alternatives. As always, the companies that benefit most are those who keep an open mind about technology - able to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.
MyMobileWorkers is a digital workforce management system which provides a better way to manage fieldworkers.