A history of Industrialisation & Automation
Introduction to robotic machinery boosted industrialization in the early 1980s. The term Robot was founded by a Czech writer in 1920, Karel Capek, in his play known as Rossum’s Universal Robots. The play depicted a situation of robots taking over the world. By the year 1939, the first physical robot, known as ELEKTRO, was displayed at the World’s Fair — marking a key point in the history of automation.
With human commands, he could walk, smoke cigarettes and blow up balloons. Robotic machinery was introduced to automate various processes to maximise productivity. Automation revolutionized the speed and quality of production, maximising profitability.
It was almost two decades ago that my father worked for an Aluminium company in the Gulf. He climbed a ladder to manually note down the temperature of the melting aluminium pot, lost balance and his foot slipped into melted Aluminium. After several surgeries and countless days in the hospital, the doctors said it was a miracle he could walk again. Such were the days before simple things like recording temperature for melting metal at regular intervals could not be automated. Automation is undoubtedly saving the human workforce from various tedious and hazardous tasks.
The Rise of Automation in Workplaces
Automation became an integral part of every industry, especially the manufacturing industry. It is now so widely prevalent in current workplaces that it begins just as the day starts at a workplace, starting from an automated attendance system that automatically records the presence of employees and their time of arrival via scanning their thumbprints. Initially, the term Automation often referred to only manufacturing plants that were filled up with robotic machinery performing tasks that previously required human effort. However, automation has now seeped into every possible industry there is. Apart from robotic machinery, there are now software based on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that are trained to mimic human knowledge and understanding.
Companies engage automated systems to support their accounting and managing payroll. Software programs are able to effectively pore through massive troves of data and decipher information based on its context to support internal decision-making. Automated Email marketing is another significant contribution of Automation to the workforce, which allows companies to automate their communication and tailor various parameters of the software.
For instance, an introductory email can be designed and sent as soon as a contact is added, a follow-up email forwarded days later only to those who opened the original email, without requiring any human intervention. Similarly, companies are looking to automate various other prospects of their business such as their human resource, talent acquisition and customer service. AI chatbots have revolutionized the customer service businesses have to offer. They are AI-based chatbots that recognise commands in various forms, such as, text, speech, sign etc. They are trained to cater to customer queries and offer the right support. These chatbots mimic human understanding of varying scenarios and respond with suitable language and instructions.
AI chatbots have enabled businesses to offer extensive customer care that is able to draw in-depth analysis, study and compare large sets of data, run quick searches and are available 24×7.
Various forms of automated services in workplaces;
- Automated Robotic Machinery used for Production.
- Automated Attendance System
- Automated Human Resource Management & Talent Acquisition
- Automated Email Marketing
- Automated Customer Service $ Chatbots
- Machine Learning to automatically target specific users
- AI and ML software for better decision making.
Automation, a blessing or a threat?
Automation has made some major contributions to the industrial sector and has enabled mass production of products, in limited time and cost. Mass Production has given rise to consumerism, the fuel for most economies to thrive on. Automation has a number of advantages such as increased productivity, more efficient use of materials, better product quality, improved safety, less workload for labour, and reduced factory lead times. Industries are able to benefit more and gain maximum advantage against their investment. Automation has introduced flexible systems that can be rebooted, redeployed and altered to suit new production methods or adjust to varying scenarios. It requires very little cost to train automated software and robots to learn new processes.
Automation has drastically reduced the cost required for human labour and maintenance expenses. Employers previously not only had to offer people monetary compensation for their work but also other benefits like insurance, allowance for commute, appraisals, bonuses etc., in order to keep their workforce motivated. An automated system does not need any motivation to perform well and will give consistent quality and quantity of output. Health and safety maintenance was also a major concern for manufacturing industries but since the introduction of automated robotic machinery, the workforce is less likely to be exposed to hazardous work environments.
Another significant advantage of automation to industries and workplaces is that automated systems and robotic machinery are free of all human emotions such as tiredness, lack of motivation or simply a foul mood! They do not need days off or vacations to reboot. It is safe to say that automation may be the best thing that has happened to the production industry and other workplaces from a perspective of profitability and productivity.
Some may argue the automation is causing humans to eliminate opportunities for themselves. The degree to which it will impact the job market around the globe is yet to unfold. In the United States of America, automation is a big concern due to the advanced technologies available. Approximately six million US jobs in the manufacturing industry have disappeared over the last few decades. This loss was experienced as an impact of automation’s slow replacement of physical labour and factory work due to the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence, the reach of automation is expanding, too. Something needs to be done about the growing concern or it may result in the middle to lower classes suffering the most. If there is a machine or software available to outperform humans in every field, it may result in large scale unemployment. We may be producing products on a massive scale but might not have enough people that can actually afford to buy them. We may be on our way to designing self-driving cars that can take over the world, eliminating jobs for many. However, there still remain a number of services that need human intervention like salons, spas, therapy, creative writers, artists, sportsmen, performers etc.
The future of Automation: A Conclusion
The pace at which Robotic machinery and Artificial Intelligence is developing, Automation is soon to reach its peak. The growth is unstoppable and is likely to replace half of the global workforce. The profitability it has to offer is a very attractive incentive, encouraging more and more workplaces to automate various processes, without taking into consideration the negative impacts it may have. However, we are yet to discover whether automation will eliminate jobs or help humans be better at their jobs.
Ever since automation has become an integral part of modern workplaces, the need for the human effort has reduced drastically. However, this human effort is now romanticised and celebrated. Human intervention that goes into making a product or designing and delivering service is considered a luxury. Companies charge more for products that are hand-crafted and services that are personalised. There is a scope for small-scale ventures like restaurants that use homegrown organic vegetables and fruits, hand-painted jewellery or anything that needed a real person to do the job!
We know that automation is here to stay and only grow bigger, all we can be is hopeful for a future of technology that favours the human race!