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Automation and evolution of jobs

Kirjoittanut: Lucas Pääkkönen Alvim - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Automation and evolution of jobs


A current topic that makes us think about the future, is how automation will affect the job market. There are a lot of people who are worried that robots will replace them in their job. It is predicted that a lot of jobs will disappear, as a study conducted by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne published in their paper “The future of employment”, 47% of U.S jobs will be automated within the next 20 years. (Halvorson, 2022) 2:34


But no need to worry, this is not a topic exclusive to the 21 century. It has already happened in various industries. One good example of how automation increased jobs is the creation of the ATM (automated teller machine). It was created about 45 years ago, and you would think it decreased the number of workers in banks, but no. Since 1970 the number of human bank tellers employed in the United States has roughly doubled from a quarter of a million to half of a million today, having 100,000 added since the year 2000.

Many of the big inventions in the last 200 years were made to replace human labor. Tractors substituted human physical power for mechanical power, and computers swap our error-prone inconsistent human calculations with digital perfection. Yet the fraction of US adults employed in the labor market is higher on 2016 than it was in 1890, and it has risen in about every decade. Our machines increasingly do our work for us, still, the fraction of employed adults in the US hasn’t diminished. (Autor, 2017)

For example, ATMs replaced a lot of the tasks that were of the tellers before, and because of that, the number of tellers by branch fell by about one-third. But at the same time, the banks discovered that the ATMs made it cheaper to open new branches, so the number of branches increased by 40%. So, the result was more branches and more tellers. (Autor, 2017)


One reason to why there are still so many jobs is the economical principle of the O-ring. In general, automating some subset of a task doesn’t make the other subsets unnecessary, in fact, it makes them more important and increases their economic value. The name O-ring comes from the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion and crash to the earth, less than 2 minutes after takeoff. It was concluded that what caused the crash was a rubber O-ring in the booster rocket that had frozen on the launchpad the night before and failed catastrophically moments before takeoff. That simple rubber O-ring in this multibillion-dollar enterprise was what made the difference between the mission’s success and the death of seven astronauts. From that powerful metaphor is where Harvard economist Michael Kremer developed the O-ring product function. (Autor, 2017)

The O-ring production function states that work is a series of interlocking steps, links in a chain, and every one of those links must hold so that the overall task is a success. If any part fails, the whole task is failed. This situation also has a positive side, any improvements in the reliability of any link in the chain, increases the value of improving the reliability of any other link also. Consequently, if most of the links are unreliable and prone to break, the fact that one link is unreliable is not so important. But if all the links are strong and reliable, it gives more importance to the performance of each link. That’s why the O-ring was critical on the Challenger as everything else worked, the O-ring was the only thing that didn’t work. (Autor, 2017)

Automation is switching our work responsibilities. We are more concentrated on problem-solving and customer relations instead of for example cash handling as in the ATM example. Thinking about the O-ring principle our work has increased in importance as all the cash handling now works better and faster, so it is expected from us that we work well also. Our creativity and experience increases in importance as our tools improve. Those bank tellers are doing fewer cash-handling tasks and focusing more on sales, solving problems, introducing customers to new products, and maintaining customer relations, more cognitively demanding jobs.

Never get enough

The O-ring principle won’t dictate how many jobs there will be in the future, it only dictates that the jobs will be important. The never get enough principle will dictate how many jobs there will be. In 1900, 40 percent of US employment was on farms, today is less than 2%. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need as much food as before, it means that with the help of machinery and automation there is needed fewer farmers but that hold more responsibility. So technology can eliminate jobs.

Today not so many people work in farming, but they work in health and medicine, electronics and computers, finance, and these industries were tiny or barely existent in 1900. Many of the products and services that we purchase were unattainably expensive or just hadn’t been invented in 1900. Automation gives us more free time and increases our scope of what is possible, creating new ideas, products, and services. As the economist Thorstein Veblen said, invention is the mother of necessity. (Autor, 2017)


So after making this essay on the effect of automation, what stuck to my head was that workers are going to have jobs with more responsibility and cognitive skills have been gaining more importance and it will keep gaining importance. A lot of the jobs of the future haven’t yet been invented, but we must prepare ourselves the best way possible for them, by trying to remain updated on the new things in the world and by continuing to make an effort to learn our whole life, that way we don’t become obsolete. Nowadays a person who doesn’t know how to use and computer is going to have a hard time finding a job, of course, there are still jobs that don’t need a minimum of computer skills, but each year they seem to become less.


Autor, D. (2017) Will automation take away all our jobs?, ideas.ted.com. TED. Available at: https://ideas.ted.com/will-automation-take-away-all-our-jobs/ (Accessed: December 1, 2022).

Halvorson, E. (2022) The effects of automation on Jobs, automation.com. International Society of Automation. Available at: https://www.automation.com/en-us/articles/february-2022/the-effects-of-automation-on-jobs (Accessed: December 1, 2022).

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