How Close is the UK to Full Automation?

With tech being a huge part of our business, we look into the topic of Automation, and how it is transforming and changing many workplaces in the UK. It is interesting to see how rapidly it is evolving. Thanks to Amber Robyn for putting our thoughts into words.

Early last year, The Guardian published a study revealing data that showed one in four jobs outside of the south of England are at risk of being replaced by technology. This means more than three million UK jobs could potentially be replaced by machines in the future. Jobs that are at risk include retail, customer service, administration, and warehouse work.

British supermarket Ocado is just one of the companies paving the way for warehouse automation. The British e-commerce supermarket made its name designing highly automated warehouses and then selling them to interested supermarket chains. Finished sites look like something straight out of a sci-fi movie as they’re complete with robots, each the size and shape of a washing machine, going about their business of lifting, moving, and sorting goods. Still can’t picture it? Imagine a big machine where groceries go in one end and shopping orders come out the other. Robots arrange and sort the inventory, while humans do the unpacking and packing.

Source: Tech Insider, Youtube

The Verge reports that the robots in Ocado-made manufacturing plants are not intelligent individually, but together they can help each other locate an order in a matter of minutes—something that would usually take hours.

If the UK goes full automation, big industries like manufacturing and retail wouldn’t be the only ones affected. Office jobs would take a hit, too. The nature of work would change drastically as repetitive tasks are reassigned to robots, and humans focus more on other higher value tasks and more rewarding aspects of their job. However, the knock-on effect is that there aren’t necessarily enough of those jobs to go around.

The transport industry isn’t safe either from the disruption and is most likely the first industry to be fully automated. In fact, the UK roads that would benefit most from driverless fleets have already been identified, according to Engineering and Technology. UK fleet companies are already using GPS telematics hardware to effectively track drivers and vehicles. Verizon Connect details how fleet companies across the country are using GPS telematics hardware to digitally aid their drivers. This includes notifying companies when the vehicles need maintenance, reducing the paperwork needed for deliveries, and monitoring driving behaviour to ensure the vehicles are driven legally and safely. This tech is a big stepping-stone towards full automation. Self-driving automated lorries will certainly change freighting in the UK. And it comes at the right time, too. The UK will get particular benefits from automated lorries, because of labour shortages and its impending exit from the European Union.

Despite the numerous benefits, not every company will invest in robotics in the short-term. According to business expert Mike Wilson, one of the main reasons UK businesses are struggling to reach similar heights is because they see robotics as "over-complicated, expensive and risky". However, as time goes on, robotic technology is getting much better, much cheaper and much safer. The complex and relatively unsafe manufacturing robots of the past are slowly being pushed out for slicker and more efficient technology. The new generation of "cobots" work alongside humans, and are much safer and less demanding; these are the focus of modern automation.

There’s no denying that the evolution of technology, the workplace, business, and several industries caught up in some of these innovations is fast. But as we mentioned in our blog post Fear Will Keep Us Going; AI, Technology and People, we shouldn’t be scared about how we fit into the jigsaw puzzle.

It is clear that Automation is growing in a big way, and being integrated into many well known industries. However, should we not use this as motivation to adapt and evolve as opposed to being fearful? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

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