The word ‘automation’ has been defined by the dictionary as ‘the technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically.’ To some extent, it describes the use of some devices as a replacement of human labour. It has been widely discussed whether automation is beneficial or whether it may bring us harm.
Machines, Energy & Pollution
Machines are a pretty straightforward example of automation. They could improve the work efficiency because they can work continuously and will not be affected by the personal feelings. Furthermore, machines or robots are always very accurate and this is the reason why they are widely used in the fields which require accurate performance such as surgery and precision metal cutting. Also, using machines is perhaps cheaper than human labor in industry.
For a business to run, anything related to finance is of great importance. With machines involved in the business, costs can play a big role in decision making.
Normally, purchasing machines can be a one-off cost. For most circumstances, using machines can be profitable in a long term. However, for a small business, a huge one-off investment could make the company be in debt easily, once their products are not well received in the market. There are also other costs that machines can bring, such as space taken by machines, maintenance, noise reduction, morale improvement due to noise, safety, etc.
It is then essential to find a balance point between automation and cost, where the cost is acceptable, while the application of automation can bring decent amount of profit. The productions can be fully manual, fully automated, or partially automated. It should also be noted that not only financial cost, but also opportunity cost due to decision making need to be taken into consideration. The amount of noise made is also significant when it comes to being environmentally friendly. When trying to find the balance point, it is important to know which aspect, or which kind of cost, is the most important, which is the least important, etc. There is no universal way to find the balance. It varies case by case.
Energy consumption and pollution is also one of the major concerns, such as fuel or electricity needed. It is essential to decide whether to use devices of low energy consumption and pollution with high cost, or to use relatively cheaper devices. Legal regulations is also an inevitable guideline to decision making.
Artificial Intelligence & Management
Artificial Intelligence is also an important part of automation. It has been expected that AI has a very strong learning ability and a remarkable memory. These unique abilities ensure it can play ‘any’ role in human’s life. In addition, the cooperation between humans could be very complex because people need to use some media to transport information. However, it is no longer the problem for AI. Therefore, AI is more efficient, simpler and more accurate.
In modern days, an increasingly significant problem is emerging with the artificial intelligence. It has been discussed a lot recently whether the development of AI is beneficial. The fear of AI out of control has always been a big issue to be considered. It is then essential for AI developers and researchers to prove the feasibility better in order for its wider applications with less fear of its ‘side-effects’.
Due to the automation of the production or job procedure, management of the whole plant or system is simplified, as it is possible to control most of the components via 1 signalling machine, either through a switch or changing the parameters. Additionally, employees will not need to learn complicated procedures for each different task. They can simply learn which machine does what, and control them through 1 simple parental machine.
Also, automation means reduced number of employees needed, which means the company in charge of it can reduce the labor cost greatly, which is a major component in a business. If a job consists of operating numerous tasks which includes potential hazards, this can be eliminated by automation as direct contact of employees with tools and hazardous chemicals are reduced. As automated procedures can complete tasks faster than manual labor, no more “off the clock” labor will be an issue, as the overall workload for an employee would be reduced greatly. This will increase the morale of the workforce too.
Finally, if the plant is managed by a simple parental machine, the probability of conflicts happening between employees in the same plant will minimize, as there will not be numerous ways to complete a task, and experience will not have a large effect on the end product.
However, a drop in employment might result in the criminal rate going up, because more people may try to work off their surplus energy by committing crimes, or they simply need money to cover their daily expenses. It has also been found that unemployment or unstable employment can lead to a bad mental and physical health state. This is not only a problem of a certain business, but also a problem of the whole society that the government should consider seriously. It is also to find a balance between employment rate and automation. Some job opportunities may also be created due to applications of automation, such as technicians and maintenance staff.
Group 64: Hector Peng, Hao Zhang, Mika Shimodoumae, Liwei Qian.