Automation isn’t new. As humankind has adapted and invented and uncovered the world around it, processes have been taken over by various machines or automatic processes. A new wave of automation is sweeping the world – driven by advances in AI technology and worries about a future planet beset by global warming. Here are 6 of the industries most affected by automation in the 21st Century.
Agriculture was arguably the first industry to be affected by automation. Early agricultural automation met stiff resistance from rural people afraid of losing the livelihoods their families had worked generations to establish.
Modern agricultural automation is, however, an entirely necessary endeavor. The world is predicted to suffer from widespread food shortages caused by global warming, among other factors. Automation promises to make farming more efficient: allowing for increased harvest yields.
Several organizations are working on farming automation solutions. One company in the United Kingdom has successfully completed two harvests using a completely automated system. Drones and autonomous vehicles are used by Hands Free Hectare to carry out every stage of the agricultural process. Could this be the future of farming?
Manufacturing has also regularly been affected by automation in the past. In England in the early 19th Century, textile manufacturing was partially automated using new devices and factory equipment. The Luddite movement fought back, breaking the machines of factory owners who used automation in a ‘deceitful’ way to cut their payroll costs.
Today, the word Luddite is shorthand for somebody unable to understand the modern world, but in truth, the Luddites understood the changing world quite well: they simply wanted manufacturing industrialists to act in good faith.
Famous American industrialist (and also racist) Henry Ford pioneered automation in manufacturing when he developed the first true production line, which spat out Model T cars at an incredible rate during the mid to late 1920s.
Today, automation is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry once more. Artificial Intelligence has found one of its most compelling applications in the manufacturing world. AI-powered factories could become 100 percent automated by replacing the need for human monitoring of robotics and ensuring that products are created with pinpoint precision every single time.
Advanced factories in the pharmaceutical and automotive industries already employ only a skeleton crew of staff – primarily to monitor and instruct machines. Even these crewmembers could be left without work if AI is successfully incorporated into these factories’ operations.
Accounting is a perhaps less expected recipient of automation upheaval. Accounting involves a great deal of routine mathematical work. Traditionally, accountants need to spend a large portion of their time working on routine sums and record checking instead of on any deep investigative or structural work.
Being able to automate accounting software has potentially changed this. By automating jobs such as invoicing or record checking, this software frees up accountants so that they can get on with the more complex tasks that only a human can complete.
Automation in the accounting industry doesn’t just help professional accountants. Small business owners can do away with hiring an accountant at all in some cases – replacing them with online services that make use of automated processes to complete accounting tasks.
The food service industry is set to change drastically due to automation in the coming years. These changes have already begun to creep in. Walk into your local McDonalds. How are you getting served? The chances are that you will encounter a hybrid system.
Sure, a real person will cook your burger and hand it over to you, but you’ll be ordering your meal on a tablet or stand-up touch screen. This is the kind of automation that is sweeping the food service industry. Nothing will replace the traditional waiter in the world of fine cuisine, but fast food chains are going to increasingly automate their processes.
It is completely plausible that you could walk into a fast food joint in 20 years and find that there are no human staff at all. Some food preparation tasks are already being completed by robots in a few restaurants.
Retail automation is already very prominent. If you have visited a supermarket in the last five years, you will have undoubtedly used a self-service checkout at some point. These touch screen devices are replacing cashiers by the thousands all around the world.
Shelf stacking may also be completed by robots in the near future. Stacking shelves is a perfect application of robotics. If a robot is taught the layout of a shop and the tasks it must complete, it could stack through the night while feeding stock information into a cloud database. It looks like the night shift at the supermarket might be a thing of the past for the teenagers of the future.
Completely unmanned shops already exist. Amazon, for instance, recently launched its ‘Fresh’ brand. Amazon Fresh shops use biometric scanning to identify individual customers. Customers are then charged according to what they pick up and leave the shop with. Each item can be identified by cameras. This makes for a somewhat disturbing shopping experience but a very efficient one for the owners.
Transportation is a field rife with automation innovation. Self-driving cars might have seemed like a science fiction fantasy half a century ago, but they very much exist in the present day. Public transportation could be automated fully in the not too distant future.
In Cambridge, UK, the university is trialing an automated shuttle bus service. The busses carry students around campus along regular roads 24 hours a day and can be called on-demand. According to spokespeople for the project, this kind of service would not be affordable unless the busses were fully automated.
There have been some well-documented issues with driverless vehicles in recent years. Even the most advanced AI-driven car can, for instance, make a comprehension mistake and be unable to correct itself. Nevertheless, the technology driving the development of automated vehicles is advancing at quite the clip.