Is full automation achievable?

Robots taking over human jobs is perhaps the most persistent fear when it comes to automation — both in science fiction and the real world. The worry is that ‘full’ automation would mean there’s nothing at all for humans to do — and no way to put food on the table.

It’s true that automation technology is only growing in the modern workplace. Businesses are automating ever-more tasks, in ever-more processes, across ever-more areas. But is full automation achievable?

The answer depends on how you define ‘full automation’.

Full automation: definition 1

The first definition of full automation is that of the fully automated enterprise:

Anything you can automate, is automated.

Here, full automation means that automated workflows take care of all the repetitive and routine tasks in your business. (I.e., the tasks that don’t require thought.) It means that automation software helps to integrate your systems for smooth, continuous data flows. And automation-adjacent technologies, like artificial intelligence, also assist with higher-skilled tasks. (Such as in-depth analysis and reporting.)

What this definition of full automation doesn’t mean, however, is that automation takes over completely. It doesn’t replace the need for humans. Rather, it is a state in which automation is fully integrated with human team members. They know how, when, and why to use it, and have the infrastructure and technology to do so.

Is this type of full automation achievable?

This interpretation of full automation – one in which automaton works in an optimal blend alongside humans – is indeed achievable. This is because it doesn’t require automation to do more than it is currently capable of.

In other words, when ‘full automation’ is understood to mean using automation to its fullest capacity, it doesn’t require more of the technology than it can do.

However, this doesn’t mean that incorporating this type of full automation will be easy. First, it requires time and analysis to recognise all the areas in which automation can help. Next, it means that processes need to be reengineered. (Both to suit automation, and to be the most efficient they can be.) And it also requires an ongoing effort to identify and incorporate new, emerging opportunities to automate.

 So, is this brand of full automation worth aiming for? Yes.

Despite the challenge, incorporating this type of full automation unlocks the full potential of your tech stack and your team. This means the biggest boost in efficiency and productivity possible. It also means you’re offering higher-value, less repetitive work to your team members.

Full automation: definition 2

The other way to interpret ‘full automation’ is that it means everything is automated. It means that robots and computers do every job and task there is, and there’s no need for human intervention at all.

This idea of full automation naturally feeds automation anxiety and the fear of robots taking jobs. But it’s also the type of automation that could see robot butlers taking on all our unwanted chores and tasks — freeing up our time to pursue our hobbies and interests.

Is the second interpretation of full automation achievable?

For all the fears and sci-fi predictions, current technological abilities mean that this type of full automation is not yet achievable.

Indeed, multiple hurdles must be overcome before this type of automation can even come close to being realised. For example:

  • Safety concerns

In the case of autonomous robots, how will humans in the vicinity be kept safe?

  • Technology limitations

Currently, we have neither the hardware nor software advanced enough to automate everything. Automation doesn’t think. Machines are only just learning to ‘see’. In short, there’s still a long way to go before full automation can be realised.

  • Ethical questions

What will the impact of full automation be on the people it replaces?

And so on.

But, if we reach a point where this type of full automation could be possible, should we aim for it?

Doing so would mean addressing the issues of automation anxiety — and the fallout from automating everything. How will people get money to pay their bills? How would we restructure society? What would it mean for the environment; the economy; global equality? This type of full automation would require fundamental infrastructural changes.

Ultimately, even should automation technology be capable of handling everything, it’s still our choice whether to embrace it or not. It’s up to humans to choose where total, full automation will do the most good.

Full automation – a matter of perspective

Whether full automation is achievable or not depends on how you define it.

Using automation to its fullest, alongside humans, is achievable with effort and ongoing additions to your workflows. And not only is it achievable, but it’s also highly beneficial to businesses and worth chasing.

Viewing full automation as a total robot takeover, however, isn’t achievable. Certainly not with the technology of today. But even with future technology, such automation use might be plausible, but it’s not compulsory.

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