The Effects of Automation

Technological development is in many ways the only useful metric we have available to us as historians in order to measure the advances being made throughout different societies across the world over time. We have named the earliest periods of recorded human history after the level of technological development historians believe had taken place by those times, such as the iron age, the bronze age and the steel age. Essentially, we have divided up these eras into clusters almost solely due to which of the alloys in question were being used predominantly for warfare at the time. Most of our history as a species can be grouped in much the same way, at least until the middle of the eighteenth century. Everything changed due to the first industrial revolution. The effects that this industrial revolution have had on the course of human history are all but impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, but it is safe to conclude that every aspect of human life has changed because of this event. The second industrial revolution, which took place almost a century later, had a similarly important impact on the development of our new more globalized society. Both of these industrial revolutions have drastically changed the way economies across the world function, and have increased the quality of life of the average person in unprecedented ways. One of the most important legacies of these events is the concept and the implementation of the concept of automation. 

Automation can be generally defined as the process of having machines begin to perform tasks that were previously done by humans. For the most part, when people talk about automation, they are talking about automation in the context of manufacturing. It is much easier for the average person to grasp the concept of having a machine replace a worker in a factory than to understand some complex definition involving pre-programmed tasks and isolation from human activity. And by and large, the effects of automation are mostly seen in how machines are beginning to replace human workers more and more in every aspect of our lives. While stereotypically and historically the jobs that automation has rendered obsolete have been low-skill, manual labor grunt work, today there are machines capable of incredibly complex tasks. There are robots being used today that can perform complicated surgeries, with the kind of precision and speed a human doctor could not match. In the short term, automation can have a catastrophic effect on employment rates, and ruin the lives of factory workers across the world by eliminating their jobs. However, it is an objective fact that automated systems such as those replacing these workers simply produce a more reliable quality of product by eliminating human error. Furthermore, as time goes by and more and more things become automated, human workers in all fields may become obsolete. There may come a day, sometime soon, when no one will need to work, and this will inevitably change the way our societies function in an unprecedented way. This future third industrial revolution will have the most profound impact of the three, and will likely improve the lives of all mankind.