Industrial Automation / Workforce Development

Fact vs. fiction: Will increases in automation lead to higher unemployment?

The answer isn't as easily digestible as the headlines would lead you to believe.

By Jim Montague, Control

I recently heard it repeated in several print and video formats that "automation is putting people out of work." I've seen this opinion tossed out a few times over the years, but this latest batch of a half dozen examples cropped up in just the past few weeks. I'd like to assume it's just part of the baloney wave floating in since the U.S. election, but even some respectable outlets were condemning automation with pretty much zero documentation to back up their assertions.

As a co-producer of non-fiction, my primary advice to readers is: always take everything you read with a big grain of salt and skepticism, assume there's probably more to any story, and remember that any report that seems nonsensical probably is. In short, just try get some independent confirmation about any important situation before you settle on a final opinion or decision. This procedure will likely be more useful than ever in the next few years.

Why is this? Because easy answers and prejudice are so attractive. They don't require any uncomfortable thinking. They go down so easy, just like the endlessly looping clichés and storylines on most sports or entertainment "news" shows. Simply swallow and go back to sleep. You probably won't even feel it when your health insurance, 401(k), Medicare and Social Security disappears—if they haven't already.     

For the same reasons, it's tempting to slam automation. Most importantly, this half-baked belief carries some logic with it, which adds a little credibility to firm up the illusion, until actual context arrives to blow it away. Automation, typically depicted by robots in automobile plants, does replace some of the manual tasks that people used to do.

To learn more, read "Exploring the mirage that automation increases unemployment" from Control.

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