Tech

DEBATE: Should we be concerned about the tide of automation?

In light of mass supermarket job cuts, should we be concerned about the tide of automation?

Vera Loftis, managing director at IBM consultancy Bluewolf, says YES.

AI and automation are happening now in fields from healthcare to automotive.

Businesses have to acknowledge that advanced automation is coming. They should be concerned either with planning how they will use it or how they will survive when their competitors deploy it and their staff and customers demand it. Automation will enable efficiencies and new ways of working, potentially giving the country the productivity boost it sorely needs. Talking of efficiency always leads to concerns about job losses or, in corporate terms, “reduced headcount”.

If automation isn’t applied with trust, responsibility, and with the primary purpose of improving employee and customer experience, businesses will lose talent and knowledge.

We’ve all been frustrated at work when the systems at our disposal don’t meet our expectations. If automation deployment is handled clumsily, without the necessary upskilling of staff and alteration of job functions, we will see reduced headcount. Employees will leave entirely of their own accord.

Read more: Thousands of Sainsbury's jobs at risk as supermarket shakes-up management

Therese Tucker, chief executive at accounting automation software provider Blackline, says NO.

Although there’s no indication that these supermarket job cuts come specifically at the hands of automation, it’s a topic that is certainly worthy of discussion, and one that won’t go away any time soon. My view on this remains the same as it has for some time: automation, as it exists now, is there to make jobs more tolerable and fulfilling.

Computer programs excel at the repetitive and mundane, and those are the aspects of jobs that humans generally dislike. Automation software is for spreadsheets and reporting, not strategy planning and meetings, and we’re not at a point where we have any computer programs which can handle tasks that require creativity or nuance. I welcome automation as a means of helping people focus on more human skills at work.

In the same week that Fabio, Britain’s first cyborg shop assistant, was sacked from Scottish supermarket chain Margiotta for confusing customers, I don’t think supermarket staff have too much to worry about.

Read more: Tesco announces it is cutting 800 jobs

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