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We should embrace its benefits
Automation Is Coming-More than a century ago, the great composer John Philip Sousa worried about the future of his profession. He feared that a new invention, the record player, would render obsolete “the ennobling discipline of learning music,” putting professional musicians out of work. Sousa’s works have stood the test of time, but judging by the hundreds of music schools and tens of thousands of full and part-time musicians in America, his prediction has not.
Fear of technological progress is as old as technology itself, especially when it comes to its effect on employment. That is exactly what we are now seeing with automation, which is being described as a threat to the well-being of Americans. We also hear warnings of millions of workers in the retail, call-center, fast-food and trucking industries getting kicked to the curb. More ominously, we are told of possible mass riots, leading to violent deaths and widespread destruction of property. To ward off this impending social upheaval, some have proposed that the government guarantee everyone over 18 an income, whether they lose their job or not.
It cannot be denied that innovation, including automation, disrupts existing industries and in turn the lives of individuals, families and communities. There is a long list of professions that no longer exist in America thanks to innovation, including elevator operators, telephone operators, blacksmiths, video store owners and bowling pin setters.
History, however, shows that we have more reason for optimism than for fear.
First, new technologies often lower costs while improving our overall quality of life. For example, robotic process automation (RPA) software is helping reduce administrative burdens by mimicking human actions and performing repetitive tasks, such as recording data.
This automation is most needed in the U.S. health care industry, where the inordinate amount of time spent on administrative tasks is causing physician burnout and higher premiums. Doctors spend more time (often hours per day) entering notes into electronic health records than providing patients with the care they need.