Over the last few weeks I have had a feeling of déjà vu. It’s a feeling I last had when I was writing SAP Nation a year and a half ago.
As I wrote in the book “I reached out to analysts who track SAP to see if they had estimates. I was surprised at how narrow their focus is. Many can tell you about SAP’s metrics but not much about its partners or its customers….I found other analysts defensive. One questioned why I was even trying to size the economy since I was not a “full-time SAP analyst.” Another declined, saying “it’s a sensitive topic.”
I kept wondering why no one had written about the massive economy which kept growing and the implementation failures which kept happening after two decades. I started to self-doubt – may be it was just my imagination? No, it was not – it’s just that others were oblivious to the mountain of data I was able to mine for the book.
I am feeling the same sense of self-doubt as I write my book on automation. Why am I excited about how automation is making most occupations smarter, more digital, more efficient? In comparison, why are most analysts and economists so pessimistic as Phil Fersht summarizes (as he adds his even more gloomy tone)? .
I see automation as a pet who enriches our lives. They see automation as a grizzly bear, a mortal threat. They see accelerating computational power, robotic dexterity, autonomous everything as unleashing of automation that far outstrips previous generations of mechanization. They see imminent doom and gloom.
Have they looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Over 140 million non-farm jobs will not vaporize anytime soon. The IRS is counting on taxes from over $ 6 trillion in wages and other compensation. In the last couple of decades, China has created the largest middle class in the world. Most of that is workers with technology enabled skills. Amazon is betting big on India – last time I checked they expect similar humans, not machines. to buy from them.
These analysts know about technology hype cycles – similar will apply to automation. How many times have we been excited about artificial intelligence in the last few decades? These analysts know about slow enterprise technology adoption patterns. Economists know labor models have been morphing – with crowdsourcing, the gig economy and on. Most of these pundits are in the Northeast, where Massachusetts is the most difficult state in the country to hire tech workers, a field which should long ago have felt the impact of automation. Yet, as with SAP Nation, they seem to ignore the data and persist in their pessimism and in doing so are causing panic in their followers. It will be brutal, they say. It will lead to unrest – pitchforks, the UK “winter of discontent” in 1979, even the French Revolution.
Me - it is leading me to more research. I have identified several what I call “circuit breakers” to “over-automation”. I remain convinced that automation is making human work smarter, and us humans will adapt to machines and we will be fine for a long, long time.