Automation, Output, and Employment
A timely repost from our SafeSourcing Archives.
The power of exponential growth is not something very easy to understand intuitively. The classic example of this, is the fabled story of the creator of the game Chess. The emperor who was enamored with the game asked its creator what he wanted for it. The game’s creator simply asked for rice, at a rate of 1 grain, doubled in number, for every square on the Chess board. This meant he received 1 grain for the first square, 2 grains for the second square, 4 grains for the third square, 8 grains for the fourth, and so on. Not until the emperor agreed, did he realize that he owed the game’s creator more rice than would be needed to build a pile the size of Mount Everest.
Similarly, not many people understand the rate at which technology is advancing today. Technology isn’t just advancing, its rate of advancement is advancing. In other words, if technological advancement was represented visually on a chart, it wouldn’t be a straight line moving upward, it would be a line curving upward steeply. So steeply in fact, that you would need a new chart to represent it every few years just to be able to see the full curve. The computers that took us to the moon cost millions of dollars to create, filled warehouses, and had the computational power of a pocket calculator. Twenty years later, supercomputers would shrink to room-sized contraptions, but able to process at a rate of a full teraflop. Ten years later, I’d be playing video games in my living room on a game console with more computing power for a few hundred dollars. And today, my daughter has an even more powerful kids tablet that cost less than $100.
If you have found yourself wondering why there is so much talk in business right now about automation taking away jobs, it’s not only because more and more activities are being automated that used to be done by humans. It’s also because the ability of machines to do human’s jobs is growing exponentially. During the industrial revolution, thousands of workers lost farm jobs to factory farming. But that change took decades to take place. Today, a new app hits the market and makes thousands of jobs irrelevant in a day. Predictions today indicate that any job that requires financial analysis will be replaced by computer applications in the next 20 years. As technology advances, our ability to produce products faster and cheaper will advance with it. However, those advances won’t be limited to increasing the scale of the production of goods. Advances of scope in what is available to automation, in the form of algorithms that can analyze financials, grade students, scan x-rays, and create proposals, with a tiny fraction of the human input that it takes today.
Procurement won’t be safe from this advance either. In the coming decades, spend will be synced with market suppliers, and bidding will be automatic. Massive databases will house everything there is to know about a company, so that RFIs will be generated within minutes of the proposal being requested. While these advances will destroy many jobs, exponential growth will also increase the wealth available.
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