Robots can do everything these days: build phones, take fast-food orders, even drive cars. As the role of automation in society increases, so does the fear that all the jobs will disappear. The real question, then, is whether or not this fear has any basis in fact.
A recent study conducted using five decades of data from 28 industries in 19 countries found that automation doesn’t reduce the number of jobs, it actually creates more jobs. These jobs are created as a result of productivity spillover into customer and supplier industries.
Another example of automation increasing jobs came when banks started using ATM machines. The machines didn’t put tellers out of business, they actually helped increase the total number of bank tellers. This happened because banks could be built more cheaply, so more banks were built and more tellers hired. The role and scope of the teller, however, was altered.
“A teller’s ability to market and their interpersonal skills in terms of dealing with bank clients has become more important. So the transition – what the ATM machine did was effectively change the job of the bank teller into one where they are more of a marketing person. They are part of what banks call the ‘customer relationship team,’” Economist James Bessen explains.
This change from mechanized tasks to human relations is a significant idea in the automation world. As of right now, automated systems cannot perform the interpersonal tasks of branding and customer relations. Robots aren’t good greeters.
Not everything is peaches and cream, however, as automation technologies have not raised labor earnings nearly as rapidly as they’ve raised productivity. While jobs overall haven’t decreased, well-paying jobs have.
To small business owners, though, job income isn’t a huge issue. This is because as technology has innovated the marketplace, more entrepreneurs have been able to leverage this technology to fulfill their business goals. Businesses owners don’t need to hire employees to do every little task, they just need the right software tools. In that way, maybe all these robots aren’t such a bad thing after all.