Automation will take millions of jobs away. But will it happen anytime soon?

The Industrial Revolution had shown that the process of changing from one way to a new way of making things is never easy. The slow changes introduced by the owners of steel factories, textile mills, and other factories were however quickly recognized by the workers. New machines and technologies had profound effects on their employment situation. Workers tried to resist the changes by going on strike, working slower than normally, and even by destroying the new equipment. With new technology, the need for human inputs decreased, forcing workers to change professions or to move to towns where the latest technology hadn’t been introduced, yet.

New technologies made a lot of jobs redundant but at the same time created new ones. Extra amounts of steel, textiles had to be sold, delivered and marketed to a growing number of customers as better, faster production methods lowered prices thus boosting the demand. Those willing to up-skill got jobs that were less physically straining and better paid.

Early effects on labor force were not good. Higher unemployment forced many back into poverty. This is true today when workers who are laid off can’t find any similar jobs or can’t find any jobs at all or whenever they can it is usually a slow and painful process. And moving somewhere else might not be possible. When a big employer moves jobs to a cheaper location or replaces most workforce with automated solutions, employees are sometimes left to themselves. Social services have limited resource, retraining those who lost their jobs takes a long time, depending on profession, not to mention the cost.

Investment in automation and other innovative developments is projected to grow, reducing employment in the areas affected. Main reason for automating tasks is to increase efficiency or lower the productions costs, or both. However, in countries with relatively low labor costs, it might be more profitable to use human capital than advanced and expensive machines. This is especially true when a technology is relatively new, not mature enough, and new versions of it are expensive and hard to implement.

Advanced technologies such as AI will push many people out of their jobs. The number of sectors and positions that will get affected by it (or will benefit from it as some may say) is set to increase. From farming to customer services sector, automation will cause major changes.

Growing share of world’s population might have to forget about working the same job or even working in the same sector their entire lives.

Changes have come to the world but with them opportunities and hope have. New, better jobs have emerged, freelancing opportunities have appeared that were simply not available 10–20 years ago. Firms are getting more flexible, offering a better work-life balance that allows squeezing in activities we wouldn’t have normally the time for. Some employees are able to work remotely, helping cope with other responsibilities such as raising children, studying, caring for family members.

At the same time, easier jobs are harder to come by. Even basic positions require more training due to more sophisticated equipment and software used in the workplace.

What is more, there are jobs that used to be done by employees but now are being completed by customers. Politico talks about ATMs replacing bank tellers, self-checkouts replacing shop staff, interactive websites replacing travel agents and insurance sellers.

It is still up for discussion if we’ll see self-driving taxis, delivery trucks, and drones in regular use. Sushi bars can be automated these days, so do baristas’ jobs, and a robot might soon make your order of French fries, too. But, one thing is to make a robot that offers a certain service and another thing is to make customers like that, go there and pay for it. Habits and customs change slowly.

Robert Smith is a freelance writer and journalist. You can find him here.