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Age of Automation

thegamefreak720 profile image Ori Alvarez Originally published at commithub.com ・11 min read

Software is the language of automation. Jensen Huang

When I first installed Linux (Ubuntu) for my work I felt such a rush automating the process of installing packages on a fresh installation. I kept finding things to automate in my computer and in my homemaking me focus more on the fun stuff. Even on videogames, I get obsessed over automating processes playing games that feed that need.

Automation is everywhere, sometimes we don't even notice. This can be a very scary subject since the first thing I think about is how it can replace jobs making unemployment a very big problem. This fear is not misplaced since studies have reached this conclusion.

"From 1990 to 2007, the study shows, adding one additional robot per 1,000 workers reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by about 0.2 percent, with some areas of the U.S. affected far more than others. This means each additional robot added in manufacturing replaced about 3.3 workers nationally, on average. That increased use of robots in the workplace also lowered wages by roughly 0.4 percent during the same time period." (Science Daily, 2020)

We must then ask the question of how does automation benefit and harm society. By knowing that we can move forward making sure our future is not as grim as movies like Terminator or Wall-E. We are going to cover the following things:

  1. What is Automation
  2. Automation History with examples
  3. Automation in its current state
  4. The possible future of automation
  5. Pros and cons of automation
  6. Tutorials on how to automate the installation process for Linux and Windows

What is Automation

Automation is a technique that employs technology to streamline and centralize routine tasks that require minimal or no human intervention. They replace human labor by doing routine tasks that would be very time consuming if a human did it. It can be simple tasks like adjusting the thermostat depending on the temperature outside to steering an airplane that has way more complex variables to deal with.
There are different types of automation:

  • Basic Automation: Takes simple tasks and automatically performs them e.g.clocks, coffee machines, wash machines, etc.
  • Process Automation: Manages business processes commonly done using software e.g. Invoice processing, workflow automation (Trello, Jira, etc).
  • Integration Automation: After a human specifies some rules it mimics human behavior and repeats those actions. e.g. Jenkins, Docker, etc.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) Automation: A complex level of automation that learns making decisions on past situations it has encountered e.g. smart thermostat, Roombas, etc.
  • Many more...

In essence, anything you can think of that a machine does something for you automatically would be considered automation. As you can see this is an everyday thing and it's embedded into modern society but let's take a step back and see some history of automation.

Automation History

The History of Industrial Automation

The first commercial steam engine was introduced in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen and it was able to transmit continuous power to a machine. By the 19th-century steam engines were utilized to power factories of the industrial revolution. Steam engines were able to replace sails on a ship and give us steam-powered locomotives.

In 1913, the Ford motor company introduced the assembly line to car production making the profits and production rates increase. This assembly line was the first of it's kind reducing the car assembly from 12 hours per car to about one and a half hours per car.

Relay logic (The method of utilizing combinational logic in circuits by utilizing electrical controlled relays wired in a particular combination) was introduced to factories with electrification. It went on a rapid adoption from 1900 through the 1920s increasing productivity in the factories.
The first and second world wars produced major advancements in the fields of mass communication and signal processing.

The Information Age

Innovation in the past lead to increase productivity and better jobs. This in turn improved the quality of job and happiness in society. With the development of the transistor, it made it easier to develop tools that automate processes in society. The computer increased productivity in the workplace by automating a lot of the processes that businesses do.
It did reduce the workforce in manufacturing. In research from Smith, (Fran. 5 Oct 2010. "Job Losses and Productivity Gains." Competitive Enterprise Institute.) "In the United States, for example, from January 1972 to August 2010, the number of people employed in manufacturing jobs fell from 17,500,000 to 11,500,000 while manufacturing value rose 270%.". What this research tells us is that humans are being replaced in the workforce faster than jobs were becoming available that they were in the past.

With the start of the information age, the workforce was compelled to compete in a global market. This change where workers were replaced by machines and having a global scope pushed workers to find jobs where they can't easily be replaced. Those workers who lose those jobs might be pressed to move into jobs that require the use of the mind instead of their muscles e.g. engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, scientists, executives, journalists, consultants, etc. These types of jobs allow them to compete in this new world market with higher wages. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, in his study “Unpacking Skill Bias: Automation and New Tasks” suggests that by the year 1987 was the moment when lost jobs with automation stopped being replaced by an equal number of similar workplace opportunities.

Automation in the 21st Century

It's not surprising that automation has revolutionized the workplace. The creation of the computer simplified the way we work. We can't say for certain what are the consequences of automation since we are starting to see both the good and the bad. No matter how we feel about it it's intertwined with our daily lives. Let's take a look at some current examples of automation:

  1. Employee Analytics

Using tools like Excel allows us to go through deep pools of data with minimal effort. HR goes through this year-round data trying to improve worker's happiness in the company.

  1. Hiring Process

Automated tools are used now to go through thousands of resumes and pick the "best" candidates saving time and money.
These tools can be tricked and are not 100% accurate. They look for specific keywords in resumes and sometimes miss excellent candidates.

  1. Employee help desk support

Chatbots are becoming mainstream allowing people to find help easily without the intervention of a human. Even if someone needs help from someone there is a huge number of tools that help report problems and help as easily as it is possible.

  1. Space

Space is a very dangerous place for humans to be in. We send robots to do a dangerous job for us to allow humans to learn more about space without risking lives. A great example is the Mars rover.

  1. Autocorrect

This simple tool helps us in our daily lives fixing our grammatical mistakes. The more we use it the more it knows what we mean helping us in the long run. It's not perfect. No tool is but it's an amazing aid.

  1. Machine automation

I remember as a child the candy machines that you put a quarter in and it dispenses an amount of candy. This is a form of automation that replaces the human in the equation. In the 21st century, we got Roombas that clean the house for us and many appliances making our daily lives easier.

  1. Scripts

Very useful when managing multiple systems since they can automate your workflow like automatically removing unnecessary files, managing packages, sending information, etc.

  1. Machine Learning

Machines for the longest time had a hard time doing complex tasks. If you break down a complex task most of the time it is a bunch of simple tasks together. With the creation of machine learning, we can feed data to a computer and it will analyze that data creating patterns. The more data the better it gets.

Possible Futures of Automation

Researchers have pondered upon the question for a long time and it expands multiple fields of study. According to the study "The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?" by Carl Benedikt Frey†and Michael A. Osborne they estimate, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. This is pretty alarming. Some companies do not train their employees to transition to a role that way they don't lose their jobs. Even if they do a lot of the jobs generated with innovation in the 21st century require fewer humans to do the job. The jobs created do not keep up with the population growth further increasing poverty.

Science fiction has always been a medium to explore ideas.
We can ask ourselves how will our future look like when automation keeps growing. In his paper "Speculations on Future Relations Between Humans and Automation" Thomas B. Sheridan argues that we can follow 1 of 2 paths depending on what humanity emphasizes when developing automating technology.

In the first future, we design automation to maximize efficiency. In other words, machines are made to make life easier by limiting the expenditure of energy.

In the second future, we design automation to selectively augment and extend our capabilities. Instead of making problems easier, we replace our daily grind with higher-order problems that enhance our experience. We take time to explore space or focus on art. Let's explore 2 films/shows that allow us to explore these 2 very different futures in detail. Wall-E and Star Trek.

First Future - Wall-E: We destroy the earth

In this future, we see that humans automate their entire lives under consumerism and cannot think for themselves. They become soft, fat, and stupid since all their lives are surrounded by a machine that does everything for them. Even the captain of the axiom doesn't know how to manage his ship. Auto, the robot that manages the ship does it for him. He is there for appearances. This future maximizes everybody's happiness by making it as stress-free as possible by taking the whole human out of the equation. They replace us at very important roles like the teacher relationship and it's not clear but possibly the parent-child relationship. This future is made worse because our rampant consumerism takes a hold of us and companies to destroy the planet of all its resources.

Second Future - Star Trek: We solve all the earth problems and explore the universe

A future I want it to happen. Poverty was solved with automation and that leads to a lot of issues being solved. Economies are non-existent and humans are tasked with exploring the universe. This is due to the existence of the replicator that can give us access to goods without paying for them making our consumerism be taken care of. We can observe in Star Trek The Next Generation that humans are in charge of out of the box reasoning even when having a computer with a vast amount of data. As a species, we come together to help other species out of the goodness of our hearts since we don't have to worry about working for money to eat. Even Data who is an android does not work against us with its superior intelligence to overthrow us. They are just part of the crew and strives to be more human. In summary, this future is where automation helps us do more of what we love instead of the stuff we hate.

Pros of Automation

  • Increase in productivity and output of good
  • Improvement of quality of the goods produced
  • Increased consistency of the goods produced
  • Reduces the cost of human labor
  • Reduce cycle time in the installation of operations
  • Replace a human operator on a task that involves hard or monotonous labor.
  • Reduce injuries that human laborers can incur on the job.
  • Replace humans in dangerous environments
  • Perform tasks that are beyond human capabilities of speed, strength, endurance, intelligence, etc.
  • Reduce the time of production of a good
  • Frees workers to work on more important roles

Cons of Automation

  • Replaces workers with machines
  • A high initial cost
  • Disconnection of reality
  • Humans becoming complacent with their lives.
  • Without policies, it can be abused in very harmful ways
  • Destruction of earth
  • Our current economic system is not prepared if automation gets out of control

Tutorial: How to automate your installation process for Linux using Bash

In Linux, you can automate the installation process of packages using a Bash script. This is easier than it sounds because all you need to do is copy-paste the command to install packages for example:

Fedora:

sudo dnf install nodejs -y

Where it can get a bit complicated is when you are installing packages for Vim and creating the config. With a quick google search, you can figure it out. At the end of the day just think of how you installed your packages and set them on a file with an extension of .sh. Then to run the script all you need to do is sudo bash script-name-here.sh. You can get an idea at my script for setting my developer environment on fedora here.

Tutorial: How to automate your installation process for Windows using Chocolatey

Windows do not have a package manager and unless you save on a drive all your installers it will be a pain to go through each website, download the installer then be able to use the program. Some people dear to my heart got pissed off at this and created a package manager for Windows called Chocolatey. It has been around for years giving the technology time to mature. To get it installed open Powershell with administrator privileges and run this command:

Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))

Docs

This command will install chocolatey. If no errors pop up go close the terminal and open it back again the same way. You can find a list of packages here. Find a package and try installing it for example:

choco install gimp

Now, this is where it gets fun. You can run scripts in Powershell as long as you have administrator privileges to install packages. Same as you did before by pasting those commands in the terminal you can paste them in a script with an extension of .bat. Take a look at my script for my windows environment here.

Conclusion

Automation is scary but I firmly believe if humans come together and take measures to guarantee our wellbeing as a whole we will be fine. Easier said than done but we have come so far as a species to be destroyed by obsolescence. We will see as time passes.

References

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