Are There Disadvantages to Automation?

The advantages of automation are abundantly clear. Just look at everything that industrial automation has done for manufacturing. Machines are faster, stronger, and more precise than people. Unlike humans, industrial machines don’t get hungry or tired, so they don’t need to take breaks. Automation is more affordable and more reliable than the human alternative, it makes life easier, and makes work safer for humans. Thanks to industrial automation, we can manufacture things we never thought possible in remarkable quantities with little variation or error.

But is it all lollipops and rainbows? Is automation perfect in every way, and our ticket to a bright and shiny future? Or is it possible that there are disadvantages to automation?

When you look at automation through the scope of manufacturing, it’s hard to find any flaws. However, there are some potential disadvantages to automation that we might consider.

Removing the human element removes the human element

There are times when replacing humans with machines is beneficial, but there are also some potential drawbacks. Automation can lead to worker displacement and higher unemployment rates. Industrial machinery is deceasing the number of manufacturing jobs available to workers. Store clerks and taxi drivers are just a couple of jobs that could become completely automated in the near future. Right now, we’re facing labor shortages, but reliance on automation could put people out of work in the long term.

While automation does make life easier and more convenient, increased automation can lead to less frequent human interaction. This could at some point apply to industrial automation, but there are already examples of this in the world today. Automated checkout systems allow us to purchase groceries with little to no human interaction. You can buy your groceries online and have them delivered to your doorstep with no contact with the drivers.

Do we want to decrease human interaction in this way? Will one engineer in a roomful of machines find work as satisfying as people working together toward a goal?

Robots are one-trick ponies

Automation is great for optimizing a certain task. However, if a machine hasn’t been programed to do something, it simply cannot do it. This limitation could be removed in the future. Researchers are currently working on machine learning techniques that would allow machines to carry out tasks they’re not specifically programmed to do, but it’s a very real obstacle at present. If something unexpected happens, automated systems are sidelined.

Security concerns with automation

The Internet of Things brings an unprecedented level of connectivity, and it’s increasing the capabilities of automation and automated systems. While this is good for many reasons, there’s also some worry over IoT security. It’s great that you can access your system remotely, but so can hackers.

Cybersecurity is becoming a major preoccupation globally. Manufacturing is not immune to the problems of bad actors with technological capability.

The disadvantages don’t outweigh the advantages

While there are some potential issues with automation, that doesn’t mean that automation is bad. Without automation, manufacturing could never be what it is today. But as automation continues to become ever more ubiquitous, we should think about all of the ways in which automation might impact our lives…positively and negatively.

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