Automation, the process by which human-driven procedures are transferred over to machines in order to make them easier and more efficient, is both a blessing and a curse to the workforce. On the one hand, automation can make some jobs easier to do, as in cases in which automation can take on difficult manufacturing projects. But, many people fear that there is another side to automation as well, and one that is likely to see human beings supplanted by robots in the near future. While the concern that automation will put people out of work has been a lasting and profound one, a recent study by Harvard University and cited by Quartz suggests that there has only been one single occupation which has been fully automated in the past sixty years: that of elevator operator.
One of 270 Occupations
According to the study by Harvard economist James Bessen, which compared the 270 occupations listed in the U.S. Census of 1950 with automation procedures that have been introduced across industries in the nearly-7 decades since, only the position of elevator operator has been completely eliminated by automated substitutes.
That is not to say that all of the other 269 occupations remain viable. Some have been eliminated because of lack of demand (i.e. boardinghouse keepers) or because of general technological advancement which has rendered them obsolete (telegraph operator, for one). Elevator operators are, in fact, the only one of the listed occupations which can blame the collapse of their workforce on automation. 232 of the remaining occupations still exist today in some form, while 32 have been rendered irrelevant due to lack of demand, and five have fallen obsolete.
Full Application of Automation Requires Human Use
A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute has shown that automation will continue to aid a variety of industries in achieving better results faster. That does not mean, however, that many other occupations will be fully eliminated, nor does it mean that robot workers will be taking over human jobs. Rather, McKinsey found that the automation process will be a gradual one, owing to a necessary confluence of technology and application in practical ways. McKinsey believes that some human workers will be replaced by robots, but in response, businesses will transform their operations in order to find ways to continue to employee most of those workers. And, perhaps most importantly, the potential benefits of automation are heavily dependent upon sustained partnership between human and robot workers. If these predictions are accurate, humans may see the benefits of automated procedures in their businesses without the realization of a widespread fear that robots will take over completely. The result could be beneficial for everyone.