The pros and cons of work automation

Technology advances rapidly and generates changes, especially in the workplace. There are those who say that automation will bring more work and others who say that the possibility of getting one will decrease.

The future of work is directly linked to the accelerated advancement of technology, which increasingly presents more devices and machines to make people’s lives easier. But at what point can this represent the disappearance of work for people?

Beyond the benefits that have brought humanity, for example, the invention of the printing press or the appearance of the Internet, technology has also been responsible for the reduction of labor in carrying out certain tasks. In the Industrial Revolution, to give an example, the work of people was replaced by looms and other machines, which gave rise to mass production and a new type of worker, the worker, and allowing the growth of trade and therefore consumption, which generated new jobs.

Another not so distant example – it will be half a century old in 2017 – is the electronic teller machine, an invention by Scotsman John Sheperd-Barron, which not only allows money to be withdrawn from banks without having to be attended by a person, but also generated its own demand by offering new services, that is, the possibility of withdrawing at any time, even when the bank is closed.

Like these, many other inventions and technological developments continue to appear and somehow open up the debate about whether they put the traditional jobs we know at risk. Today the main fear lies in automation, that robots or androids do many of the tasks that men do, because as the economist Andrew McAfee pointed out in his TED talk, what will our jobs of the future be like? “Our machines have begun to show abilities that they had never shown before: they understand, speak, listen, see, respond, write… and they don’t stop acquiring new ones”.

See Andrew McAfee’s full talk at:

However, the outlook is not so clear because at the same time that some jobs will be automated or will disappear, especially those related to transportation, logistics and administrative work – according to the study “The future of employment”, published in 2013 by Carl Benedikt Frey. and Michael A. Osborne, from the University of Oxford–, others will be created, mainly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, that is, they will be linked to the digital world, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing, which requires staff to create and design, among other things, objects such as organs or human prostheses that fit the patient correctly.

From this, two positions can be found about work in the future:

Robots as a source of work


Those who defend this position, 52% of those consulted by the Pew Research Center, say that although there will be more machines and robots that carry out many of the jobs of man, they will need someone to design them, build them, maintain them and I repaired them.

Vint Cerf, considered one of the fathers of the internet, believes that there is no reason to be alarmed because “historically, technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed and there is no reason to think that the same thing will not happen this time.” Therefore, in the manufacture of robots, skilled workers such as engineers and programmers and unskilled workers such as assemblers will be required.

Another argument of this group of experts is the existence of jobs that can never be automated, such as all those that involve creativity, innovation, the ability to synthesize and solve problems. An example of this is the series: although producers such as Netflix or Marvel already incorporate Big Data to find out what the audience likes, they cannot do without producers and scriptwriters, since these are the ones with the capacity and talent to create and tell stories.

And in this David Hughes, an expert in telecommunications, agrees, who says that “as much as robotics and artificial intelligence advance, the human hand will continue to be necessary on a large scale.”

And J. P. Gownder, a contributor to the Forrester Report 2025: Working Together with Robots, joins this position. For him, “the future of work is not going to be as dire as some predict”, the challenge will be in the transformation that companies make so that humans and robots work together.

Ultimately, in this position they consider that the insertion of robots into the labor market will allow employees to have more time for other functions, since they will no longer be in charge of mechanical and repetitive tasks, in addition, it will help them enhance their abilities to respond efficiently to the demands of the environment.

Generation of business models, book written by Yves Pigneur and Osterwalder.

Photo taken from: House of the Book

According to a study published in 2013 by the University of Oxford, in the next 20 years around 700 current jobs will be performed by machines, which means that 47% of the economically active population may lose their job.

The authors, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, point out that “the fusion of robotics, information technology and artificial intelligence is going to have a devastating impact on the labor market” and, according to them, it will happen both in the industrialized and developing countries.

Among the trades most at risk of being automated are bank or supermarket tellers, travel agents, farmers, and those related to transportation and construction, while “jobs that require creativity, social intelligence, and a high level of complexity or dexterity are not in as much danger”, says Osborne.

“Companies have to start negotiating a new relationship between humans and robots, in which the two work together, instead of becoming mere substitutes.”

J.P. Gownder.


Another of the standard-bearers of this position is the American economist Andrew McAfee, who assures that we are creating “the era of the new machine” and this brings with it several challenges:

– So that robots do not take all jobs, he says, entrepreneurship must be encouraged and educational systems guarantee people the acquisition of appropriate skills to face these changes.

– As there will be more and less technology and less work, “more radical interventions” should be considered, such as a guaranteed minimum income for all people, since the middle class will be the most threatened, which will create greater inequality.

Lastly, in a report presented by the Pew Research Center, which gathers the opinion of more than 1,800 experts in technology, robotics, artificial intelligence and new technologies, 48% agree with McAfee’s idea that robots will cause more inequality, since As some jobs are automated and others are not, the purchasing gap will grow.

Given this panorama of job destruction, Justin Reich, a member of the Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, believes that “the jobs that remain are going to pay less and are going to be more temporary than the ones we have now. The middle class is going to collapse.



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