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Automation describes a wide range of technologies that reduce human intervention in processes, namely by predetermining decision criteria, subprocess relationships, and related actions, as well as embodying those predeterminations in machines.[1] Automation has been achieved by various means including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic devices, and computers, usually in combination. Complicated systems, such as modern factories, airplanes, and ships typically use combinations of all of these techniques. The benefit of automation includes labor savings, reducing waste, savings in electricity costs, savings in material costs, and improvements to quality, accuracy, and precision.


In the simplest type of an automatic control loop, a controller compares a measured value of a process with a desired set value and processes the resulting error signal to change some input to the process, in such a way that the process stays at its set point despite disturbances. This closed-loop control is an application of negative feedback to a system. The mathematical basis of control theory was begun in the 18th century and advanced rapidly in the 20th. The term automation, inspired by the earlier word automatic (coming from automaton), was not widely used before 1947, when Ford established an automation department.[4] It was during this time that industry was rapidly adopting feedback controllers, which were introduced in the 1930s.[5]

The World Bank's World Development Report of 2019 shows evidence that the new industries and jobs in the technology sector outweigh the economic effects of workers being displaced by automation.[6] Job losses and downward mobility blamed on automation have been cited as one of many factors in the resurgence of nationalist, protectionist and populist politics in the US, UK and France, among other countries since the 2010s.[7][8][9][10][11]

Before automation, many chemicals were made in batches. In 1930, with the widespread use of instruments and the emerging use of controllers, the founder of Dow Chemical Co. was advocating continuous production.[42]

Today extensive automation is practiced in practically every type of manufacturing and assembly process. Some of the larger processes include electrical power generation, oil refining, chemicals, steel mills, plastics, cement plants, fertilizer plants, pulp and paper mills, automobile and truck assembly, aircraft production, glass manufacturing, natural gas separation plants, food and beverage processing, canning and bottling and manufacture of various kinds of parts. Robots are especially useful in hazardous applications like automobile spray painting. Robots are also used to assemble electronic circuit boards. Automotive welding is done with robots and automatic welders are used in applications like pipelines.

Perhaps the most cited advantage of automation in industry is that it is associated with faster production and cheaper labor costs. Another benefit could be that it replaces hard, physical, or monotonous work.[44] Additionally, tasks that take place in hazardous environments or that are otherwise beyond human capabilities can be done by machines, as machines can operate even under extreme temperatures or in atmospheres that are radioactive or toxic. They can also be maintained with simple quality checks. However, at the time being, not all tasks can be automated, and some tasks are more expensive to automate than others. Initial costs of installing the machinery in factory settings are high, and failure to maintain a system could result in the loss of the product itself.

Moreover, some studies seem to indicate that industrial automation could impose ill effects beyond operational concerns, including worker displacement due to systemic loss of employment and compounded environmental damage; however, these findings are both convoluted and controversial in nature, and could potentially be circumvented.[45]

The paradox of automation says that the more efficient the automated system, the more crucial the human contribution of the operators. Humans are less involved, but their involvement becomes more critical. Lisanne Bainbridge, a cognitive psychologist, identified these issues notably in her widely cited paper "Ironies of Automation."[48] If an automated system has an error, it will multiply that error until it is fixed or shut down. This is where human operators come in.[49] A fatal example of this was Air France Flight 447, where a failure of automation put the pilots into a manual situation they were not prepared for.[50]

Many roles for humans in industrial processes presently lie beyond the scope of automation. Human-level pattern recognition, language comprehension, and language production ability are well beyond the capabilities of modern mechanical and computer systems (but see Watson computer). Tasks requiring subjective assessment or synthesis of complex sensory data, such as scents and sounds, as well as high-level tasks such as strategic planning, currently require human expertise. In many cases, the use of humans is more cost-effective than mechanical approaches even where the automation of industrial tasks is possible. Therefore, algorithmic management as the digital rationalization of human labor instead of its substitution has emerged as an alternative technological strategy.[52] Overcoming these obstacles is a theorized path to post-scarcity economics.[53]

Increased automation often causes workers to feel anxious about losing their jobs as technology renders their skills or experience unnecessary. Early in the Industrial Revolution, when inventions like the steam engine were making some job categories expendable, workers forcefully resisted these changes. Luddites, for instance, were English textile workers who protested the introduction of weaving machines by destroying them.[54] More recently, some residents of Chandler, Arizona, have slashed tires and pelted rocks at driver-less cars, in protest over the cars' perceived threat to human safety and job prospects.[55]

The relative anxiety about automation reflected in opinion polls seems to correlate closely with the strength of organized labor in that region or nation. For example, while a study by the Pew Research Center indicated that 72% of Americans are worried about increasing automation in the workplace, 80% of Swedes see automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as a good thing, due to the country's still-powerful unions and a more robust national safety net.[56]

In the U.S., 47% of all current jobs have the potential to be fully automated by 2033, according to the research of experts Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. Furthermore, wages and educational attainment appear to be strongly negatively correlated with an occupation's risk of being automated.[57] Even highly skilled professional jobs like a lawyer, doctor, engineer, journalist are at risk of automation.[58]

According to a 2020 study in the Journal of Political Economy, automation has robust negative effects on employment and wages: "One more robot per thousand workers reduces the employment-to-population ratio by 0.2 percentage points and wages by 0.42%."[62]

Research by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School argued that employees engaged in "tasks following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms" are at risk of displacement, and 47% of jobs in the US were at risk. The study, released as a working paper in 2013 and published in 2017, predicted that automation would put low-paid physical occupations most at risk, by surveying a group of colleagues on their opinions.[63] However, according to a study published in McKinsey Quarterly[64] in 2015 the impact of computerization in most cases is not the replacement of employees but automation of portions of the tasks they perform.[65] The methodology of the McKinsey study has been heavily criticized for being intransparent and relying on subjective assessments.[66] The methodology of Frey and Osborne has been subjected to criticism, as lacking evidence, historical awareness, or credible methodology.[67][68] Additionally, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that across the 21 OECD countries, 9% of jobs are automatable.[69]

Based on a formula by Gilles Saint-Paul, an economist at Toulouse 1 University, the demand for unskilled human capital declines at a slower rate than the demand for skilled human capital increases.[72] In the long run and for society as a whole it has led to cheaper products, lower average work hours, and new industries forming (i.e., robotics industries, computer industries, design industries). These new industries provide many high salary skill-based jobs to the economy. By 2030, between 3 and 14 percent of the global workforce will be forced to switch job categories due to automation eliminating jobs in an entire sector. While the number of jobs lost to automation is often offset by jobs gained from technological advances, the same type of job loss is not the same one replaced and that leading to increasing unemployment in the lower-middle class. This occurs largely in the US and developed countries where technological advances contribute to higher demand for highly skilled labor but demand for middle-wage labor continues to fall. Economists call this trend "income polarization" where unskilled labor wages are driven down and skilled labor is driven up and it is predicted to continue in developed economies.[73]

Lights out manufacturing grew in popularity in the U.S. when General Motors in 1982 implemented humans "hands-off" manufacturing to "replace risk-averse bureaucracy with automation and robots". However, the factory never reached full "lights out" status.[74]

The automation of vehicles could prove to have a substantial impact on the environment, although the nature of this impact could be beneficial or harmful depending on several factors. Because automated vehicles are much less likely to get into accidents compared to human-driven vehicles, some precautions built into current models (such as anti-lock brakes or laminated glass) would not be required for self-driving versions. Removing these safety features would also significantly reduce the weight of the vehicle, thus increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions per mile. Self-driving vehicles are also more precise concerning acceleration and breaking, and this could contribute to reduced emissions. Self-driving cars could also potentially utilize fuel-efficient features such as route mapping that can calculate and take the most efficient routes. Despite this potential to reduce emissions, some researchers theorize that an increase in the production of self-driving cars could lead to a boom of vehicle ownership and use. This boom could potentially negate any environmental benefits of self-driving cars if a large enough number of people begin driving personal vehicles more frequently.[76] 041b061a72

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