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Are Machines Replacing Human Labor? Essay Example

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1162 words
Carnegie Mellon University
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Automation technologies like robotics and machine learning play an essential role in our daily life, and their prospective consequence on jobs has become a primary public concern and focus of research (Kaku, 2012). Most companies have embraced technology by employing more machine labor than human labor to cut down production cost and increase their efficiency. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that robots can automate about 45% of activities that people can perform and about 60% of all occupations could see about 30% of their activities automated by the end of the 21st century (Levy& Murnane, 2012). Thus, the second wave of automation by the end of this century is centered on cheap sensors, artificial cognition and distributed smarts, which will touch on jobs from knowledge work to manual work (Kaku, 2012). This will reduce the need for companies to use human labor because of its effectiveness and cost. Today, companies continue to sack employees and their work taken over by robots and machines. As machines take over human functions are replaced. In this paper, I argue that machines could replace humans by focusing on the technical feasibility of occupational activities that are highly susceptible or less susceptible to automation.

The potential of automation is based on the technical feasibility of technologies. Each occupation has some activities, each with different degree of technical feasibility. Practically, the automaton is based on the cost to automate, benefits of automation compared to labor cost, availability of skills, the relative scarcity and the technical feasibility (Markoff, 2016). Although machines can take over some human occupational activities, it does not spell the end of in that particular line of work (Kaku, 2012). However, with the increase in the number of partly automated occupations, more innovations are being developed to automate most jobs.

In most workplaces, the technical feasibility of employees operating the machine is about 78%, the highest across the world (Levy& Murnane, 2012). The most susceptible sectors to automation are construction sector, the manufacturing sector, retailing sector and foodservice sectors. For example, in construction and manufacturing sector, operating machinery or performing physical activities account for about 75% of worker's overall time (Rotman, 2013). The pervasiveness of such foreseeable physical work means most of the work could be automated. About 90% of what soldiers, cutters, laborers, and brazers do has the potential of being automated (Rotman, 2013). A cafeteria or automats continue to be in use. Most restaurants have developed new concepts of robotic servers or self-service ordering despite the cost of automation or the technical potential for automating. Other activities that are likely to be automated include the amount of physical activity required to operate machinery in erratic environments (Levy& Murnane, 2012). Such activities involve work in sectors like construction. For example, operating a crane on a construction site, measuring material, and translating plans or designs into work requirements require greater flexibility and may be difficult to automate. Their potential for automation is considered to be about 25% and should there be an advancement in technology, their potential for automation could increase to about 67% (Levy& Murnane, 2012). Thus, their potential for automation has led to a culture of automation particularly in most skill jobs, and this could reduce the need for employing many people.

Proponents believe that robots and machines have replaced humans because they can work without fatigue or delays and can perform their work with efficiency (Rotman, 2013). Machines have therefore replaced the need for human labor because it can carry out the work that could have been performed by many people. Machines only require one individual to operate rendering other people jobless. Most companies opt for machines to reduce the cost of operation and increase efficiency while the rest of the individuals are replaced by machines. In a capitalist system such as the United States, robots and machines will win (Markoff, 2016). The world is slowly moving toward automation because compared to human labor, it has a better ROI. This means machines would perform tasks that we cannot imagine 20 years from now.

However, opponents believe that there are activities, which cannot be automated or replaced by machines, particularly those involving developing and managing employees and those that require expertise in decision making, creative work, and planning (Levy& Murnane, 2012). Machines can only manage the routine, but humans would perform the unpredictable tasks that need flexibility, problem solving and creativity (Levy& Murnane, 2012). Such activities require knowledge work and could be varied. Today, computers can do an excellent job of caring out well-defined activities, but humans still have to interpret results, determine proper goals or provide solutions. For example in healthcare, health care activities require expertise and direct contact with patients (Markoff, 2016). Besides robots are not able to diagnose a patient. Even with the increase in technological advancement in the medical field, no machine can be more intelligent to perform the functions of a doctor (Markoff, 2016). Human beings are also intelligent and can adjust or think based on the situation they are involved in. For example, a robot may cause damage because it does not have an appropriate feedback mechanism to carry out a specific function (Kaku, 2012). Machines only perform based on commands and without commands they will not be able to perform unless a different command is provided. However, humans can think and make appropriate decisions based on the tasks they are carrying out. Thus, there are some activities that do not have the feasibility potential of being automated or performed by machines.

Understanding the feasibility potential of jobs that are susceptible to automation provides an opportunity to rethink how employees can remain in their jobs while the digital labor platforms connect with them in carrying out their jobs or projects. Technology development has succeeded in replacing humans by reducing the need for human labor. This has resulted in the loss of employment because most companies have embraced technology by employing more machine labor than human labor to cut down production cost and increase their efficiency. Machines have made work easier, can work without fatigue or delays and can perform their work with efficiency. However, humans are still important in jobs that involve intelligence because they can think and make appropriate decisions based on the tasks they are carrying out. Seeing a world where humans would work together with machines in tackling problems is great. While there are robots that can replace humans completely, there are some who need human control to perform their functions. The biggest technological development that humans fear is if machines are developed to have the ability recognize concepts during communication, and gain expertise in decision making, creative work, and planning.



Kaku, M. (2012). Physics of the future: How science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by the year 2100. Anchor.

Levy, F., & Murnane, R. J. (2012). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. Princeton University Press.

Markoff, J. (2016). Machines of loving grace: The quest for common ground between humans and robots. HarperCollins Publishers.

Rotman, D. (2013). How technology is destroying jobs. Technology Review, 16(4), 28-35.


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