Whether you look at modern IT-based enterprise working or think about family and consumer sciences, no matter where, everybody wants to automate activities they don’t enjoy doing. Usually that is done in order to save time but sometimes it plainly more comfortable to have a machine support you.
Can you automate everything? Is it something worth the pursuit to cease all manual activities altogether? I think there are certain risks of evolutionary and social depreciation, if we begin to let everything be done by machines but where to start and where to stop? After analysing cause and effect of automation at work and at home I have put together the following five “rules”, or pointers if you prefer the term, for automation theory.
Do Not Automate What You Can’t Do Yourself
I think you should first know an activity to its full extend before you automate it. A human should not lose the potential for acquiring skills just because there is a possibility for an automation. In case there would be an automated meal-maker kitchen gadget that works well and is culturally well accepted, you might enjoy the time and effort you save but your children will never have a clue how to cook.
Automate to Support People, Not Replace People
In a working environment the dominating perception of automation innovation is often as negative as “They are taking our jobs away!”. Usually however the target of automating standard work activities is to save time and allow staff to focus on activities that does them more justice. I never encountered a corporate scheme that was driving an automation project with the objective to reduce the headcount of staff.
"They took our jobs!!!" pic.twitter.com/xknxNyUe6I
— South Park (@SouthPark) January 6, 2016
Machines that support people need support by people as well. This may sound paradox but unmanaged systems will always fail at some point. You need a team to support the technology and you need the people that are the subject matter experts to be consulted about the automation requirements and the operations.
Automation Is Based on Standard Process Working. There Is No AI.
Is there a rise of artificial intelligence (AI)? Is machine learning replacing the need for our kids to go to school? This is too much science fiction as of now. There is a media trend to talk about AI in any shape and form but often systems just follow programmed workflows to process actions and data. If a developer defined the conditions and the reactions of a system, there is no decision making and therefore such are no AIs.
Following programming is not making decisions. Not every system that mimics humans is an #AI.
— Christopher Isak (@ChristopherIsak) February 17, 2016
Automate Only Distress Never Eustress Activities
Some activities are boring, difficult or differently annoying. Those are the ones you want to automate. Do not automate something that people enjoy doing. As per gamification practices, those activities are the ones that improve the mood and productivity of people as well as their probability to have good ideas.
Typical Activities to Automate
Are you wondering what activities would be good candidates for automation? In best case you aim at high frequency tasks such as the generation of a daily report. Check out the following bullets for more good targets of automation:
- Frequently carried out and repetitive
- Always the same actions with little to no variance
- Tasks that involve waiting times
Is automation good or bad? It’s neither. I am a fan of empowering people, not replacing them. It might be that there are ethical constraints but in the end everyone who decides to reduce staff has to deal with that decision on their own regardless of automation.
For everything else I can only say “Automate or be automated!”. It’s no quote of mine and I don’t know who said it first, but it’s definitely valid. For all those who oppose the idea of reducing manual work effort by leveraging automation and machines, I’d like to ask you: Why do you have a washing machine?
The same answer that you give, could also apply to the CEO of a company as well. Maybe it helps sympathise decisions better, thinking of that analogy. If you are interested in this subject, make sure to also check out the article “What Jobs Will the Robots Take?” by Derek Thompson.