Mar 30, 2022 - Economy & Business

Automation moves closer to home

Illustration of robot hand reaching out to human hand
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A robot-assisted way of life is becoming more and more the norm as companies have improved their technologies and the cost of those technologies have come down. 

Why it matters: As employers continue to struggle to find workers to fill certain jobs, and the world's population ages creating a smaller future workforce, automation in many fields is a necessity.

Driving the news: Walgreens Boots Alliance has opened new prescription fulfillment centers populated with robots that can do a typical pharmacy's daily work in an hour, with plans to open 22 over the next three years.

  • One drone company is now delivering food in Texas in addition to servicing 10,000 homes in North Carolina.
  • Alphabet’s self-driving car company Waymo just launched in its first major metropolitan area, San Francisco, following a similar move by General Motors’ backed company, Cruise
  • In New Jersey, a hamburger vending machine has landed inside a mall, while White Castle has announced it plans to install robot fry stations in 100 locations. 

The big picture: Automation will lead to 11 million jobs lost in the U.S. within the next 10 years, analysts at Forrester recently predicted. 

  • Yes, but: When factoring in an estimated 9.6 million jobs that will be created over the same time created in new fields, the net jobs lost will ultimately be about 1.4 million.

What they’re saying: Automation will impact nearly all jobs — but not replace them.

  • “Technology taking all our jobs is a constant fear ... that never materializes,” analysts at Forrester wrote in a report earlier this month.
  • “The pace of technology change can be dizzying, but the real-life barriers to full automation are significant.”

The intrigue: Over-automating can fail, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk admitted in 2018

  • Reducing operational costs has also become less of a reason for companies to automate, Forrester found.

What to watch: Jobs that focus on repetitive physical and mental tasks are most at risk of being replaced by software or robots. 

  • Workers with creative, social and analytical skills will become more in demand. 

Our thought bubble: There’s constant debate over the net effect of automation — whether it hurts or helps job creation. But the reality is that the world’s been coexisting with modern computing for decades, and machines for hundreds of years. One difference for the future will be defined by the imperceptibility of the relationship. 

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