Why we should NOT be afraid of robotic process automation (RPA)

Why we should NOT be afraid of robotic process automation (RPA)

There have been a lot of articles published over the last few months about how automation, smart software and AI will replace humans in the job market. From the Financial Times and the Economist, through the Guardian, the BBC and CNN to Futurism, all media is creating an atmosphere of impending disaster around job markets, and promoting dystopian stories – with incredible intensity. This is the visible final failure of mainstream media as a source of reliable information that can help us to make any rational decisions about our future.

The new criteria of automation are quite different from the classical differentiation between white and blue collar jobs:it does not matter whether your job is skilled or unskilled, whether it requires an MBA or a diploma from the best universities or just a short weekend of training. The new criteria centre around whether or not work is routine, repetitive or rule-based. It means that both lawyers and taxi drivers can be replaced by smart software, technical writers and retail salespeople,but those who do any job that involves substantial and tangible amounts of cognition and creativity are far less replaceable.

The real problem is not that automation removes humans from the job market; it is fear of change that paralyses rational and creative thinking.

The classical fear of change typically has two aspects.

The first is fear of the unknown. No one really knows what the future will bring, so being worried now that the lion’s share of society will lose their jobs in the future is a bit irrational. Progress should create a similar amount of new jobs. There are also other solutions out there, such as universal basic income or a 20-hour work week, and many other concepts of the future that encourage us to be creative and hopeful in our thinking and acting towards a better life.

“I could never work 9-5 again,” says World Bank, development and policy expert William Powers. “That kind of work seemed like a form of slavery – giving up your mental, emotional, and intellectual capacities.” (Introducing the 20-hour work week by Kieron Monks, CNN, 13/11/2015)

So what are we really afraid of? The loss of jobs or that our jobs steal our sense of life and turn us into slaves or…robots? The real purpose of automation is to free humans from repetitive tasks and allow us to do valuable and innovative things. The idea of automation is always to make work better, faster and more accurate; never to make anyone unhappy or redundant!

The second issue that incites this fear of change is our tendency to focus on external things to define our identity and worth. By fearing what the future might hold we forget about the most important task that every one of us has: to create the future and not to merely wait and see what it will bring! Of course, it is very important to take into account all the data we have at our disposal in order to help ourselves make rational decisions about how to prepare for future events. However, a vital part of any rational decision is always to hope for the best and believe in yourself. Without this, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos would not have been able to plan to colonise Mars and space, or start producing electric cars, change our habits of buying and reading books (Amazon) and ways of sending money (PayPal).

There are not just sensational articles on robotic automation but some bestselling books also take this narrow approach. Even an otherwise interesting and really well-written text, “Humans need not apply: a guide to wealth and work in the age of artificial intelligence” by Jerry Kaplan, presents this characteristic cognitive bias towards automation and smart software – that it should have remained a treat for humans.

Instead of thinking about all the ways that automation software will destroy our jobs, we should be excited by the new challenge of how many new jobs, tasks and great opportunities it can bring to our businesses and everyday lives.

If you like creative thinking and believe in the infinite power of human intelligence you can’t also assume that only one, negative scenario can happen.

It is good to remember what we are really afraid of. We are not afraid of a lack of jobs; we are afraid that without a job we will not be able to buy things we need and have the money for living.

Automation is good. Robotic process automation gives time and energy to creating more values. It gives us an opportunity to lead more fulfilled lives. Let’s focus on what new and amazing things we can create and not what we might lose because of this incredible freedom we have been given.

We can start to build the future of our businesses today. Let’s begin with robotic process automation.

 

Andrzej Manka

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