On Automation

Automation is what drives me. Taking a process- possibly even an automated one- and tightening things up through technology, reducing or removing the steps involving manual labor. Whether it’s a script for myself/friends that checks the lunch specials at a favorite restaurant and sends them out over Jabber whenever they change, or a complex system involving numerous devices, software pieces, etc.: Computers are our tools, and I am Zen when engineering automation.

Automation, unfortunately, doesn’t sit well with all humans. Sometimes someone notices that they’re not necessary anymore, and  Sometimes it’s an employer that notices that some employees aren’t needed anymore, and lays them off. There’s a couple ways to look at this:

  1. Automation that obsoletes humans is bad
  2. Humans obsoleted by automation need to re-tool

Of course, I’m a proponent of category 2.
New York is a “right to work” state and heavily pro-Union, which makes it difficult to make the following statements, but unless you want to wallow in self-pity, they’re none-the-less important to be said. If your job was automated, then either: you weren’t doing it efficiently enough or the technological climate has evolved to allow humans to do more important things. If you were laid off because of automation, then you provided your employer no additional benefits other than that which was automated and you need to tool up in order to stay employed. It’s staying abreast of those “more important things” that every employee should always be doing. You never know when some whiz-bang program/invention is going to make your previously irreplaceable duties as Head Basketweaver useless. As Head Basketweaver, it’s an implicit part of your job to position yourself as a valuable asset, and show that you still have value even if the position you currently hold becomes irrelevant.

Automation isn’t going to stop or slow down just because it’s unpleasant. Automation is how society evolves. Unless you’re Amish, or a proponent of primitive living, you use automations every day. You don’t wash your clothes in the river with lye. You don’t walk everywhere you need to go: even riding a horse was an automation. If you’re reading this, then you don’t rely on the Town Crier to get your news and events: newspapers put them out of business, should we have not evolved those as well? For the religious, the Bible/Koran/Torah you read and hymnal/songbook you sing from was produced using automation: Should an army of monks/sages be employed to hand-transcribe every copy?

I do have sympathy for those who get clobbered by new technology. Losing your job is rough regardless of the reason, and that’s why it’s so critical that employees position themselves well. Whether it’s outsourcing to China or automating, change is inevitable. Every human has the capacity to learn and adapt. I know 86 year-olds who whiz around the Internet like teenagers, so the argument that one is too old to learn “new tricks” falls on deaf ears. Learn and adapt, and the inevitable changes will make it trivial to pick up and move on.

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3 Responses to On Automation

  1. Steve says:

    Nicely said. Being somewhat obsessive compulsive when it comes to organization, automation is the natural compliment to the way I “think” too. You’re RIGHT on the money about continually learning, adapting, and being willing to try new tasks and responsibilities or you’ll find yourself obsolete pretty damn quick. Some people just don’t like change, and while there is some merit in saying “change for the sake of change is bad”, resisting change where it makes things better, structured, efficient, and automated is “good.”

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