In the approximately 45 years since ATMs were introduced, causing panic among bank tellers, the number of human bank tellers has roughly doubled, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers cited by the public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute. This raises some intriguing questions: why do we still have bank tellers, and why has automation not eliminated their jobs?
Most of our inventions in the last 150 years have served to reduce the amount of manual labor required for a task, be it tractors or computers, and yet our employment rates have increased.
If we are to believe a new World Economic Forum (WEF) report, emerging tech will create more jobs than it destroys, at least for the next four years. Specifically, “The Future of Jobs Report 2018” predicts the loss of 75 million jobs by 2022 and the creation of 133 million jobs over the same period, for a net increase of 58 million jobs. So it appears that there will be a swing in the type of jobs, but it is not the end of jobs.
Technologies replace certain tasks rather than complete occupations and, in an often ignored corollary, new technologies also create jobs and demand new skills from workers. Throughout history, technological innovations have enhanced the productivity of workers and enabled the creation of new products and markets, thereby generating new jobs in the economy. This will be no different for robotic process automation (RPA).
A study by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the impact of technological revolutions on labor markets shows that not only do labor productivity and per capita GDP increase with technological advancement, but also that the full economic impact of industrial revolutions has only become apparent several decades after the initial technological breakthroughs. This time around, the study states, “all present data is fully consistent with the view that ‘this time is not different.’ ”
As with any new technology, there are numerous myths about RPA. The most prominent myth — the one that has created fear among the modern workforce — is that RPA will replace humans. This myth does not hold true; RPA implementation actually works toward the betterment of the workforce and workplaces.
[For more from the authors on this topic, see "Robotic Process Automation: Making Us More Human."]