The Robots Are Coming for Our Jobs, Seller of Automation Equipment Says

Illustration for article titled The Robots Are Coming for Our Jobs, Seller of Automation Equipment Says
Photo: Luca Bruno (AP)

Sometimes the pitch-perfect example that totally proves your argument falls directly into your lap approximately three days after you need it to.

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When I published “‘Robots’ Aren’t ‘Coming for Your Job’—Management Is” last week, I was encouraged by the surprisingly robust discussion around the piece, and the way we frame our conversations about automation and work in general. Yet some parties remained unconvinced that the language in question obscures the fact that eliminating jobs is still a human decision, and one very often made by executives with an eye to cutting costs and growing profits.

To them, I would submit this one additional piece of evidence—I just received an email pitch with the subject line, “The jobs that AI will take over first.” The pitch was offering me a GIF that depicts data “analyzed” by a company called RS Components that visualizes how many jobs will be replaced by machines with a flashing graphic where human icons are replaced by robotic ones.

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The kicker here is that RS Components sells “electronic components, electrical, automation and control, and test and measurement equipment” to other companies.

So while the graphic’s language reads that 54 percent of chef and catering jobs are “at risk” of automation, and over half of the humans on the grid ominously vanish beneath an amassed robot army, the entire display is in fact meant to function as an advertisement for automation equipment and services. As best as I can tell, the graphic works on two levels—first by directing any managers and engineers among the GIF’s viewership who own automate-able businesses to a link where they can purchase the technology that will allow them to do the automating, and second by helping to instill the general sense of inevitability around the robot worker uprising.

If anything, I didn’t go far enough in my earlier argument—“the robots are coming” is not just a smokescreen for management to disappear behind. Sometimes, it’s an outright sales pitch issued by those most eager to see the robots en route.

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DISCUSSION

About 10 years ago I saved a business line in a company by reducing their operational costs by 80% through automation. In the process, 2 people lost their jobs but 4 people kept their jobs. The alternative was all 6 people losing their jobs.

The problem was that a competitor had figured out how to do the automation a year earlier and clients were moving to the competitor for the lower costs. I implemented similar automation and the customers decided to stick around.

Last I heard was that all the companies offering the service were eventually shut down because the information was available over the web.

All this to say that competition is a significant driver to reducing costs. All it takes is one company deciding to automate. If that drives their prices lower, it gives them a competitive advantage. At that point, the decision to automate will largely be out of management’s hands due to competitive pressures.