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What do Attila the Hun and robotics have in common?

By Mehmet Kaya - Last updated: Tuesday, May 23, 2017

“Industrial automation and robots are coming to get your job.”

Attila the HunWell, history seems to be repeating itself. When I was reading the reports recently from Oxford Martin School’s program, The Guardian and many other respected sources about automation and robotics related job losses, I couldn’t help remembering Attila the Hun. These reports conclude that around 45 percent of American manufacturing jobs are at high risk of being taken by automation and robots within the next two decades.

When the formidable Middle Asia horsemen of Huns stormed into the heart of the Europe over the Caspian Sea, they brought a fearful image with them. Everyone in the continent was scared. Some European mothers were using this to frighten their children… “If they are not a good child, they will be visited by Attila the Hun.” It’s very convenient, isn’t it?

Well, those Italian mothers could have used this statement about automation and robotics as the scare tactic instead of Attila the Hun. Unfortunately, at that time robots had not yet been invented. In one of the modern management textbooks: Leadership Secrets of Attila The Hun (by Wess Roberts PhD), it can be seen that Attila’s armies are efficient in the battlefield but their human side flourished outside of war zone. Pope Leo I and a group of suffering children around him did what the Rome’s prestigious General Flavius Aetius and his army couldn’t. They stood in front of Attila on the outskirts of Rome and asked for mercy. The children in particular who requested mercy touched Huns’ hearts remembering their own families and children in their yurts, in the homeland.

In the end, the Huns showed mercy and did not destroy Rome.

Without knowing the real facts, mothers just wanted to scare the kids and used Attila the Hun as Halloween decoration.

History repeats itself

Today we’re repeating the same story, casting automation as the evil invader.

IMG_6356Rapid technological advances in industrial automation and robotics are not the only causes of fluctuations in the employment equation. There are other influences that disrupt jobs much more effectively than technological advances. We must all remember the latest recession, which was triggered by some over greedy Wall Street wolves, who took advantage of the lack of legislation and loopholes, the consequences rewrote many lives. Many of us in the USA, and across the the globe, felt the ripple effect and lost our jobs and suffered.

I do believe in that in comparison the effect of technological advances on jobs would be negligible. Compare the effect of automation to fluctuations in banking and other financial sectors, governmental decisions, taxation policies, global conflicts, the rapid increase in population, environmental issues and geographical and demographic distributions.

Based on history, human creativity, survival instinct, economic wisdom will create as many jobs as are obsoleted or will shift jobs into other areas. According to IFR report (International Federation of Robotics), large automation programs with robots have had a positive effect on employment, and not just in the US, in the German automotive sector, the number of employees increased in parallel to the growth of robotic automation; the growth between 2010 and 2015 averaged 2.5 percent.

After every technological revolution, people get better services, better products and a more comfortable life. This pattern has been repeated ever since homo sapiens left Africa in search of future. I don’t think it will be different during Industry 5.0 or 12.0 or further episodes.

New technologies, new opportunities

Once upon a time, the coal industry had its glorious hay-day. At that time, it would have been unthinkable that the industry would almost disappear for good. Those employed left their jobs to move to manufacturing jobs – and another golden era started. In other words, the character of employment has changed and has emerged even stronger in a different area. Take the renewable energy industry, which has created more jobs than whole coal industry: research, manufacturing, transferring the energy from the source to consumer and service. The coal industry now seems to only exist as a political pawn for today’s politicians to exploit to score election points.

All industrial revolutions have recycled the myths about potential job losses. Human spirit and creativity have always found a way to create more jobs than have disappeared. We shouldn’t confuse the changing nature of jobs with weakening of the job markets.

In the end, industrial automation and robotics are job creation platforms. I believe that political paradigm, economic policies, banking and financial disasters, financial and political greed, the profitability concern of large established enterprises are responsible for more job losses than robots or cobots.

I couldn’t help smile when I read that, one very famous computer guru has suggested taxing robots to protect job losses against robotics advances. What would be next? Any robot cannot work more than 40 hours a week? Or no H1B visa will be issued for foreign origin cobots?

 

Addendum

Today, the press picked up the PWC report on robotics and lead with the headline: Up to 30% of existing UK jobs could be impacted by automation by early 2030s,

However they conveniently missed off the second part: but this should be offset by job gains elsewhere in economy


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AuthorMehmet Kaya


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