Future Friday: Robots are not coming all that quick

This type of worker is much further away than most of us think.

We have all heard stories and news reports of robots replacing or displacing workers. Companies are developing driverless cars at what seems a rapid pace. Technology seems fated to give us all large amounts of “leisure” time aka unemployment. The prognostications, however, are not occurring at the pace many people expected.

Companies are not adopting that kind of technology

According to one report, only 10% of American companies that would benefit from robot technology have actually adopted it. Even McDonalds is not moving to replace workers threatening $15 per hour. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, in response to a question on robots and kiosks, “I don’t see it being a risk to job elimination.” He said “Ultimately we’re in the service business, and we’re competing with other opportunities for people to eat and drink out. Frankly, we will always have an important human element.”

The human element

That seems to be a key component to how rapidly workers will be replaced by technology. If the business has a big human component, contact with the customer, companies may be unwilling to mess with the customer relationship. Look at how many of us object to “robot” calls or “automated” answering services. Most people I know would be unwilling to jump into a car with no driver. Despite the fact that the technology exists to fly a plane without a pilot, how many of you would be willing to get on an airliner that did not have a human in the cockpit?
Even companies that have the technology to replace workers on a wholesale basis, such as Amazon, don’t use technology to replace workers, they use technology to monitor workers.

Worker shortage

For many companies, retrofitting to replace workers is not economically sound. Despite warnings of a shortage of labor, for the most part, there are enough workers to do the work. Yes, there are shortages of people trained to do certain jobs, but that is a training issue and not a numbers issue. When we get to a point where there are not enough people in existence to do the work, then we will see companies adopting technology on a much more rapid basis. For now, however, replacing all their workers with robots is not an economical solution for most companies.
Most of you reading this will probably never see the oft forecasted wholesale replace of workers with technology. Your work may be augmented by technology or monitored by technology, even made easier by technology, but few of you will be out and out replaced by technology, especially if you are customer interacting.
So we can relax a bit.

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