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Is Automation a Job Killer?

A New Study Says That the Fear of Robots as Job Stealers is Unfounded

June 27, 2017

A new study published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation disputes the widespread notion that robots - and other forms of automation, including artificial intelligence - will destroy jobs and lead to a future of high unemployment.

The ITIF study examines the last 165 years of U.S. labor and employment history, examining technology and its impact on specific industries, as well as specific jobs, such as elevator operators, film projectionists and auto mechanics.

According to the study, the U.S.labor market is not experiencing particularly high levels of job churn (defined as new occupations being created while older occupations are destroyed). In fact, it’s the exact opposite: Levels of occupational churn in the United States are now at historic lows.

The levels of churn in the last 20 years - a period of the dot-com crash, the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008, the subsequent Great Recession, and the emergence of new technologies that are purported to be more powerfully disruptive than anything in the past-have been just 38 percent of the levels from 1950 to 2000, and 42 percent of the levels from 1850 to 2000.

Inefficiency: the real economy killer

The authors of the study take a contrary view of the threats faced by the U.S. labor market based on their analysis and findings.

“Rather than too much innovation or productivity,” the report suggests, “the bigger risk is that economics will not be able to raise productivity fast enough to adequately raise per-capita incomes, especially in an era where nations face growing elderly populations.”

As an example from recent history as it relates to productivity gains and unemployment, the authors look at the massive adoption of personal computers, citing research from Boston University.

Boston University economist James Bessen found that occupations relying on computers grew 1.7 faster per year than occupations that did not. Bessen’s studies revealed that that computer workers did substitute for other workers in an industry, but inter-occupational substitution had a relatively small effect (less than half a percent annually).

Despite being a transformative technology, however, Bessen’s work suggested that computers have not been a major driver of net employment loss.

Automation, Innovation and Growth

From Artsyl Technologies’ perspective, this study reflects our own real world experiences. Often, companies that choose to partner with us DO approach us at a key decision point - to hire additional staff to handle things like accounts payable data entry and document handling, or to automate key elements of that process to better scale their operations.

While the question of bringing on another FTE may have been the tipping point to making the decision to adopt better, automated processes, the companies are typically looking to achieve more than reducing headcount or cutting costs to boost their bottom line.

In reality, most are looking for better ways to drive top-line growth. Their ultimate goal is usually more focused on achieving operational excellence and greater productivity so that their departments and their staff can have a more meaningful impact on the health of the business.

To learn more about how companies leverage smart process technology to elevate the role of their employees and deliver greater value to their organization, contact Artsyl at sales@artsyltech.com. We can discuss your specific operational challenges and identify opportunities to take the pain out of your processes to boost efficiency and improve the quality of work for your employees.