Automation vs. Human Workers: The Pros and Cons of a Digital Workforce

Explore the pros and cons of a digital workforce driven by AI and automation. Discover how striking the right balance can create a better workforce.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been at the forefront of tech conversations as of late. While some are discussing the ethical implications and if anything should be done to stop it, AI is continuing full steam ahead into the future. One thing is certain, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have radically transformed the workforce as we know it. Many industries are choosing a digital workforce rather than traditional hires. As more and more companies implement AI and automation, the debate about the pros and cons of a digital workforce will only grow. 

Pros of Automation and a Digital Workforce

Increased efficiency and productivity: If you’ve ever watched a machine churn out a product, you know that machines perform tasks at a faster pace than humans, with minimal errors. Provided you can foot the energy bill, automation can produce products whenever you need them and turn out greater amounts than previously believed to be possible. Automation’s efficiency can lead to higher productivity levels and reduced production costs. These technologies provide the perfect environment for innovation. This not only benefits the businesses using these technologies but also helps the economy grow and flourish. 

Improved safety and working conditions: By automating dangerous or repetitive tasks, the risk of work-related accidents and injuries is significantly reduced. Tasks that can cause damage to the knees or expose humans to toxic fumes, can be taken over by machines that will be unaffected. Spot from Boston Dynamics has been automated to do a number of tasks that can prevent danger to humans like radiation detection. With these tasks allocated to machines, human workers can focus on tasks that require human intellect and creativity. This can lead to a more fulfilling work environment for humans and increased employee satisfaction.

24/7 availability: Machines can work 24 hours a day 7 days a week without needing breaks, sick days, or to take off early and pick up their mother from the airport. Chatbots, for example, can be ready and waiting to answer customer questions at any hour they are needed. Constant availability allows companies to put out more products and meet customer demands more quickly and effectively. Constant availability leads to happier customers and increased customer loyalty. These factors ultimately lead to greater profits. 

Long-term savings: Automation can lead to cost savings in the long run by reducing labor costs. After all, machines don’t need dental insurance or a retirement plan. AI and Automation can also reduce costs by minimizing errors and improving overall efficiency. Cutting down on errors saves time that would have to be spent correcting them and time that could be spent on other projects. The savings from a digital workforce can then be reinvested into other areas of the business. This will set the company on track for increased growth and profits. 

Cons of Automation and a Digital Workforce

Job displacement: The biggest concern you hear discussed with automation and AI is the loss of jobs. The man vs the machine conflict has been around since before John Henry battled the steam engine. As automation takes over certain tasks and industries, many workers may find their jobs becoming obsolete. People are now fearing that AI will take over jobs that were previously thought to be safe. Art, programming, teaching, writing, and more jobs that were thought to be innately human, are feeling threatened. Job displacement can lead to greater unemployment and increased income inequality. This is an even greater risk for those in manual labor and blue-collar positions.

High initial investment: Like any other major technology, getting automation and AI technologies going can be incredibly expensive. They can require infrastructure, equipment, and training—all of which can add up to major up-front costs. These costs can create big barriers for small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and startups looking to integrate new technologies. As a consequence of this, if automation and AI become prominent in the industries of those companies, it may be difficult for smaller companies to compete. This could lead to a less diverse industry and body of products and services. 

Room for errors: AI and Automation are not infallible. Automation will always need human monitoring because of the margin of error. In certain industries, errors could be costly or worse, dangerous. With AI making its own decisions and drawing its own conclusions, there is always a chance that it will be incorrect. Furthermore, there are certain things that some AI are better at than others. The infamous ChatGPT, for example, struggles with mathematical calculations. However, ChatGPT is a language model and is naturally good at things that pertain to language like searching for grammatical errors. 

Limited emotional intelligence and creativity: AI is making art but does that mean it is creative? While AI has been progressing at uncanny speeds, machines still lack the emotional intelligence and creativity that come naturally to human workers. This means that they remain less effective at tasks that require empathy, judgment, and innovation. So you likely won’t see swaths of AI judging any court cases or counseling any patients any time soon. 

Ethical concerns: The rise of automation and AI has caused many to raise an eyebrow in suspicion. Lately, ethical debates surrounding privacy, data security, and the potential for biased decision-making by machines are growing in number. U.S. vice president Kamala Harris, met with tech leaders recently to discuss this very issue. Making sure that they are developed and used responsibly will be critical in addressing these concerns and ensuring these technologies will be an aid rather than a hindrance.

Striking a Balance

With digital workers growing more and more popular and advanced, businesses will need to strike a balance between automation and human employees. When implementing these technologies, businesses should strategize what roles to have them fill.  Having AI and automation focus on tasks that are repetitive, dangerous, or time-consuming will make the investment more worthwhile and beneficial to all parties. These businesses should also invest in the employees that they are replacing, helping them to develop new skills that will better serve the business and carry them into the future. While there is much to be debated about AI and automation, recognizing the pros and cons is key in making informed decisions for businesses, policy, and society. If we can find the perfect balance, humans can build a future that is safer, prosperous, and more fulfilling for mankind. 


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