Robots dominate an assembly line at the Tesla car factory in Fremont, Calif. (David Butow / For the Times)

Opinion

Opinion: Automation is bad for the workplace

Automation can give us cheap labor, but it takes away our jobs and our humanity.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/edwinbai/" target="_self">Edwin Bai</a>

Edwin Bai

September 1, 2022

In today’s world, jobs are slowly becoming more and more automated, with machines replacing workers by the millions in the U.S. every passing year. This replacement of human labor is so rapid that a 2021 report by McKinsey Global Institute predicted 45 million Americans — one-fourth of the workforce — would be automated by 2030, as reported by Slate.

Over time, it has slowly become apparent that human labor is gradually becoming less important as machines take over our jobs and occupations with more sophisticated technology. It’s undeniable that more and more jobs are being lost to automated labor, but how exactly does this affect workers and workplaces?

The rise of automated labor is related to the enormous benefits it brings to corporations. It’s cheaper, more efficient and doesn’t complain about working conditions or low wages; it does what it’s programmed to do and that alone makes it so much more valuable than human labor in the eyes of corporations.

For instance, automation company Tray.io states how automation is so much more profitable to corporations than human labor. Not only does automated labor bring more profit to corporations, but it also increases efficiency in the workplace, where companies are able to do more in less time compared to human workers, as touted by another company offering automation, N-ABLE.

On top of these benefits, automated labor is also cheaper than manual labor in the long run. As calculated by ARNOLD machine, another automation company, the cost-benefit of automated labor quickly becomes apparent after the second year, illustrating how replacing human workers with automation is much cheaper for corporations. 

Not only that, but the rise of automated labor also creates new jobs while encouraging higher education for higher-level work. As automation replaces manual labor, there need to be more workers who are able to develop, run and maintain automation technology.

This demand for high skilled labor opens up more job opportunities for higher educated workers. With this in mind, corporations are able to maintain high levels of productivity and profit from automated labor while attracting highly skilled manual laborers, which would reduce the amount of low-skilled workers in the workforce. Evidently, automated labor has incredible value to corporations and those looking to make a profit. 

But how exactly does automated labor impact the working class and workspaces? Although automation greatly benefits the bourgeoisie and corporations, it has the opposite effect on those in the working class. 

First and foremost, automation reduces the number of jobs available to low-skilled laborers. As previously mentioned by Slate, more and more jobs are gradually being replaced by automated labor, meaning that low-skilled workers are laid off in exchange for cheaper and more efficient automation.

Job shortages can severely impact the working class who are looking to make ends meet. Most members of the working class are forced to work low-skilled jobs, but if those jobs are being replaced by automation then these people will start losing money, which would contribute to the cycle of poverty that entraps so many Americans. 

Another downside of machines replacing human labor would be the loss of value of human creativity, such as using one’s own personal touch to incorporate human traits into work. An example of the importance of this human touch is food.

Robots can make food quickly and efficiently, but they lose out on creativity and design in the process, as well as being inflexible to custom orders unless they are extremely advanced AI. As a result, every product and creation done by AI is repetitive, bland and mundane without the addition of human creativity. Humans are adaptable, artistic and can learn and grow from previous mistakes that robots may never adapt to. As such, automating human labor would have a negative impact on human creativity, an essential aspect of any workplace.

Automated labor may also affect our working habits. Working in an emotionless environment filled with mindless robots can cause the few human laborers there to become emotionless, as well as forget or neglect human values like respect.

In the case of small businesses that require, or at least have a lot of, human-to-human interaction, using robots may cause you to lose meaningful relationships that your customers have built with you over years. The loss of human interactions may cause a mental health crisis as stated by QUARTZ.

Replacing manual labor with automation can benefit corporations looking to make a profit, but it also hinders human-to-human interactions within the workplace, and the consequences of mass automation may contribute to a serious decline in social interactions in society.

All in all, although automated machines can do mundane tasks in place of humans at a cheaper cost, they are a hindrance to the environment of a workplace, making it seem more monotonous and less lively without humans. Automation can give us cheap labor, but it takes away not only our jobs but also our humanity.