Robot Fears: Employers Don’t Want Replacements, They Want Productivity

A robot takes over the rounds at a New Jersey hospital

A robot A.I. takes over the rounds at a New Jersey hospital | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Artificial intelligence and robots are coming for your job, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. This may be true, depending on your circumstances. We’ve seen it happen throughout history. Some jobs are replaced with new technologies while others remain unaffected. Horse and carriage drivers are no more, for example. But with robots and automation on the immediate horizon, concerns are as high as they’ve ever been. We could see huge numbers of jobs taken over by technologies and robots simultaneously, rather than one at a time.

That has people very, very worried.

But one robotics and automation expert is aiming to calm everyone’s nerves by inviting us to think a little bit deeper about what’s happening, rather than run around in a panic. After all, there are some jobs that we should be happy to rid ourselves of, either because they’re incredibly dangerous, or because cold circuitry and logic are better suited to the task. Either way, Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff for Redwood Software — a company that develops robotics and robotic process automation — says that businesses aren’t keen on removing everything with a pulse from their staff for fun.

Rather, they want to augment their workers to make them more productive. Robotics simply allow for those augmentations.

“We look at how we can help really free up people in their business to stop doing the repetitive, mundane activities that are non-value added so that they can do stuff that is both more fulfilling to them, and supports the objectives of their particular organization,” Kinson told The Cheat Sheet.

Though his company’s goal is to make life easier for workers by taking boring, time-consuming tasks off their plates, Kinson is aware of the unease flowing through the economy about the possible displacement of thousands, if not millions of workers due to the wide-scale adoption of automation programs and robotics.

And it’s something we’re starting to see already. Just recently, a law firm actually hired an A.I. “lawyer” — meaning that it’s not just blue-collar workers who are in trouble. It’s even highly specialized and skilled employees too.

The potential for lost jobs isn’t easily dispelled. Estimates from the World Economic Forum say that as many as 5 million jobs could be lost by 2020. So, how can you calm people down while also convincing them that rapid adoption and deployment of automation and robotics is a good thing?

Robots: all about productivity

It’s not easy, but we have to keep in mind that employers want one thing: productivity. And they want it at the most cost-effective rate. We’ve seen technology sweep through manufacturing and other areas of the economy. But when it comes to the back office and white collar work? Automation and robotics may change the game.

“What we’re seeing is that there’s a gap between the productivity that’s being delivered through decades-worth of investment in IT and back-office technology and the returns that are being delivered to organizations. What did people do to plug that gap? One approach was to go to the outsourcing model,” Kinson says. “That was basically to say that ‘I can’t make my process more efficient, or improve it, or radically change it. What am I going to do? I’m going to move it to a place where the cost of doing business is lower.”

So, by augmenting productivity domestically, Kinson believes more businesses will be able to keep jobs from going abroad. Again, it’s about productivity. If you can’t make the process more efficient, employers will look for ways to make the process cheaper — and they’ve done that by sending jobs overseas to, as Kinson puts it, “chase those savings.”

Robotics will cause turbulence, however

But that doesn’t mean some heads are going to roll, or that there aren’t going to be structural changes to how business is done — resulting in lost jobs. “Yes, it’s potentially about, in some cases, removing people and employees from that part of the process. But actually, in most cases, it’s about enriching what people do, and freeing them up to do things that are value-added,” he said.

What’s the takeaway? Robotics and automation are going to tear some jobs from the economy, and there’s really no avoiding it. But overall, these changes should be a net benefit for everyone — by making businesses more efficient and productive, and actually keeping some jobs at home that may have otherwise been sent overseas. As for what jobs are probably on the chopping block? As you can imagine, low-wage, low-skill positions, like cashiers, or those in customer service. People who drive for a living should worry as well.

But overall, Kinson says we should welcome new technology to the economic fold, and not fear it. There’s going to be some turbulence, but we’re seeing that in other areas — like energy — as well. Just be stoked that you’re only a few years out from potentially having a robot butler.

Learn more about robotics and automation solutions at Redwood Software.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: