Why You Won’t be (Entirely) Replaced by a Robot

I’ve recently written about robots arriving in the workplace and what the implications are likely to be.  Many people are nervous about this as they’re concerned about losing their jobs or about massive unemployment in general.  But a just-published McKinsey & Company report can set their minds at ease.

A key conclusion from the Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation is that employees aren’t going to become obsolete and get replaced, but their activities will become more automated. For example, pilots on many airline flights only actively steer the plane for three to seven minutes, the rest being handled by autopilot.  But pilots are still needed for judgment calls and emergencies. Because of this dynamic, the report estimates that only about 5% of jobs could be totally automated.

The big benefit to this automation is that it takes over the burden of repetitive and boring tasks, freeing employees to focus on work of higher value using their creativity or analyzing situations. Since, according to the report, only 4% of current work activities require real creativity, the opportunity for advancement is huge.

Interestingly, automation applies to the C-suite as much as the factory. The report says that 20% of a CEO’s time can be automated using today’s technologies. Assuming the CEO has the most impact on a company’s future, that 20% pickup has enormous implications in the leadership and organizational areas.

Lastly, the cost implications are pretty great: McKinsey found that the potential benefits of this automation are typically between three and ten times the cost.

Some numbers from the report:

45 percent of work activities can be automated using current technologies.

Fewer than 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology.

About 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their activities automated.

20 percent of a CEO’s working time could be automated using current technologies.

4 percent of work activities require creativity.

29 percent of work activities require sensing emotion.

Frank Kenna III
November 10, 2015

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