Coronavirus as Automation Accelerant

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To coin an overused phrase: that escalated quickly.

Ushering in the New Year/New Decade with my customary January 1 just-north-of-a-coma hangover seems like a page from someone else’s life, lived a long time ago.

Now, reading a constant blitzkrieg of COVID-19 coverage and pondering the long-term, peripheral impacts to come, I continue to feel hung over without the fun of the night before. “Hung over” might not be the best description. “Mugged” might be better – repeatedly, psychologically Rick-Rolled without the catchy tune. [Yeah, I think it’s catchy … I can’t be one of the cool kids all the time.]

We live in a vastly complicated world. As we are learning – painfully – things can change in a great big hurry, and will continue to do so. The forces of biology and history don’t give a single flip about our feelings or plans.

Pause and give it a deep ponder … how much has your life changed since ringing in 2020? How we live day-to-day has been forcibly transformed: how we work, how we socialize, how we participate in the economy, etc.

Well, to quote the great Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Jurassic Park’: “Hold on to your butts.” The year [and decade] is far from over.

I knew that we were in for radical change and turmoil in this decade, but I didn’t see things playing out as they are. My belief was that automation would significantly impact economies, organizations and individuals, and that said automation would be adopted at a reasonable pace, driven by fairly predictable economic and competitive factors.

Holy crow … I think I was dead wrong on that last bit. COVID-19 will be beyond bad, but it will also serve as an accelerant for the adoption of automation. It’s going to happen much faster than originally projected … and many will clamor for it.

Case in point, this Lifewire piece states, “With COVID-19 keeping us home, it’s finally time to let the robots take over”. Well, that’s a chirpy, sunny outlook. The article states that while humans are still needed in the workforce, automation is on the rise in many areas. “Now, in the face of a true, global catastrophe, there is a chance that massive automation could save us. It will be messy as the robots and AIs make numerous, sometimes awful mistakes, but some industries and operations will manage to continue because of it … And when this is all over, we’ll retake control from the robots and AIs — if they let us.” It won’t be a matter of them letting us resume control, it will come down to whether we will be capable of weaning ourselves off of the new way of doing things – will we be able to let go of automation that may afford higher levels of safety, efficiency … and profit? Will we want to? 

Consider also this quote from an April 3 Protocol article that covers potential automation across retail, healthcare, delivery services and logistics / manufacturing: “More than 6.6 million people filed for unemployment in the U.S. last week. Experts estimate 10 million are out of work. Already, automation is filling some of the gaps. But when the dust settles, will robots have replaced those jobs for good? The answer is complicated and differs by industry, but one thing is clear: Automation trends that were already on the horizon will happen faster now.” Obviously, that number has considerably worsened, and the accompanying impetus driving automation has increased. Pedal to the metal.

Further, in a piece from Vox we see this quote from Brookings Institution’s Mark Muro: “Economic downturns … bring about increased levels of automation, which is already an existential threat to many jobs. And a coronavirus recession, due to its breadth and scale, could cause even more automation.”

And finally, an article from The Guardian stated: “Almost half of company bosses in 45 countries are speeding up plans to automate their businesses as workers are forced to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Some 41% of respondents in a survey by the auditing firm EY said they were investing in accelerating automation as businesses prepared for a post-crisis world.”

What does all this mean? It means that we’ve taken one game-changing hit that will quickly usher in another game-changing hit.

Are we ready for this?

Nope.

After having taught at graduate and undergraduate levels for almost 17 years [also did a brief tour of duty as a director over a handful of graduate programs], I came to realize that the traditional educational system was itself an industrial model, geared to serve a broader industrial model – and that that model was going to become obsolete.

What people need is the ability to pivot, adapt, evolve – and then do it all over again. That’s why I created the FastFulcrum curriculum. We need these substrate skills now more than ever.

Am I saying that every job is going to be automated? No. However, that doesn’t mean that large swaths of what you do won’t be automated. This may lead to role redefinition, organizational reorganization and potential compensation … ah … adjustment.

Am I saying that coronavirus will accelerate the adoption of automation? Clearly, that’s a hard “yes”. From the Protocol article, “… this is a shock that is going to unleash a lot of rapid response. The robots are ready now, and the technology is more available as a turnkey solution for more types of industries than ever.” Then, from the Lifewire article, the “calculus used to say robots were too expensive, but as we look at the negative impact to businesses from Coronavirus, they’re looking a lot less expensive.”

The need is there, and the capability exists to meet that need.

Pivot, stick, move … pivot, stick, move. Are you ready? The wolf is at the door.

Now, more than ever, you need to Remain Relevant in the Age of Automation. Please have a look at the FastFulcrum courses that provide the substrate skills needed to do so:

https://fastfulcrum.com/all-courses/