With the impending doom of automation in the workplace, KWIB asks what it means for our jobs, and what it means for our self-worth.

Let me hazard at a guess and suggest that when you think of automation in the workplace, your mind races with imagery of frenzied robots, one step away from taking over the world. Arguably, it is this perception of robotics in the workplace that can send workers in to a frenzied state of panic.

Recent news articles have remarked that; “Robots will take our jobs” (The Guardian 2018) and that “Robot automation will take 800 million jobs by 2030” (BBC 2017). With the BBC (2015) even developing an interactive automation risk that estimates your risk of being replaced by a robot.

The introduction of the Amazon Go store in Seattle sets the scene for a futuristic society without work. At Amazon Go, customers do not have to queue endlessly at a checkout. Nor do they have to hastily juggle their belongings to desperately reach for their bankcard, whilst angry customers with ‘judgy’ eyes give the ‘ups-and-downs’. Instead, customers are required to scan their phones upon entry, go to the shelf, pick up whatever they fancy, and walk back out again. Once the customer has left the store, they receive a proof of purchase on their phone for the items they have just purchased.

With such innovative and groundbreaking technology infiltrating our work-spaces, it is understandable that concerns are growing for job security. To put things in to perspective, this technology allows for a ‘human-less’ shopping experience! And whilst I would be glad to see the back of retail jobs (internal shudder), for many people, retail makes up their primary income.

Social media seems to be flooded with dramatic statements about the impending doom that faces workers, who in the very near future are due to be replaced by robots.

However, Systems America, Inc. President Adesh Tyagi states that the scaremongering press coverage of automation in the workplace neglects the benefits of such a development. Tyagi claims that those who are only focused on automation as a process, by which humans are guaranteed to lose their jobs, miss the mark. With technology reaching new heights, Tyagi argues that the professional industry must ‘keep-up’, and the introduction of automation within the workplace will only bring about positive developments. Such developments would mean that workers are unrestrained from menial and repetitive tasks. Furthermore, there are benefits for the company, as a significant rise in efficiency and productivity is expected, where automation can resolve issues that were previously limited by human workers.

No matter what benefits the capitalist market may see from automation, it is important to recognise the impact of these technological development upon REAL people.

It is a known fact that everyday, more and more workers are displaced by an automated equivalent, or in many cases, an automated superior.

Yet what is less spoken about, are the personal effects experienced by these workers, whom are victims of this technological overhaul.

Increasing automation within industry has meant that more and more workers are now suffering with job-loss anxiety. With the impending doom of robotics and automated technology, forcing workers to come to the harsh reality that losing their jobs could be a reality. This has manifested within workers as poor physical and mental health, and is arguably a direct product of their newly insecure nature of their job.

For these workers, this employment is not only a source of income, but also provides a sense of purpose and self-worth.

We’ve all attended social occasions and upon meeting someone new, could you truthfully say you have not asked ‘so what do you do?’. It is within this question that the uncomfortable and awkward silences linger, as the response for many victims of an automated workforce is; ‘I uhhh…I lost my job.’

For many people their identity rests on what one does for work, and it is through this that we give value not only to others but also to ourselves. Work is a social institution through which we define our world, our day-to-day structure, and our distinctiveness.

Whilst it is a contested phrase, many people do ‘live to work’ rather than ‘work to live’. Essentially, encapsulating the very tricky predicament of what to do when one has no work. What purpose does our life serve if we are no longer relevant in our society? Are we just left behind?

The loss of one’s job to robotics profoundly impacts upon an individual’s sense of value. In essence workers who have lost their jobs to automation, have been ‘out-skilled’ by a self-less machine. In many circumstances this has left workers experiencing a lack of self-value and moral direction.

 

Catherine Butler
Assistant Editor in Chief