back to article More automation to suddenly look like a jolly good idea as businesses struggle through coronavirus crisis, say analysts

Businesses should revisit automation with renewed vigour as the COVID-19 crisis abates, according to Forrester. In a paper describing the top-level response to the pandemic and the resulting attitudes to emerging technologies, the analyst noted that pre-coronavirus, 57 per cent of global data and analytics decision-makers at …

  1. Robert Grant Silver badge

    A chatbot is a UI technology, not an automation technology.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A chatbot is a UI technology, not an automation technology.

      I guess they're referring to the type of automation where a NLP chatbot is used to establish what problem or requirement a user has, and the bot then triggers the appropriate back-end automation to fix the problem or fulfil the requirement. In that sort of case it's fair enough to call the bot automation technology, as it's an integral part of the automated process.

      1. maffski

        No, the conversation is an automation. Remember, in economics everything is a technology.

      2. Robert Grant Silver badge

        That just stretches the definition of automation into meaninglessness. If I replaced the on-screen chatbot with a text-to-speech and speech-to-text interface, the NLP and backend integrations would all remain. The only thing that would change would be the user interface.

  2. BebopWeBop Silver badge
    Devil

    In a totally automated world (OK reducto ad absurdum) who is going to pay?

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Ultimately, in a totally automated world, there would be no need for either work or money. Everything anyone wanted would be available at no charge. A small percentage of people would supply the necessary creative talent to improve and enhance society because that is what they want to do - similar to having a hobby. Machines will run themselves, repair themselves and extract raw materials and energy sources etc. with no need for significant human oversight or intervention.

      The hard part is in getting to anywhere near that point. At present people must pay for what they want - essentially by performing work that benefits others. But as automation increases, the amount of work that must be done by people diminishes to the point where there is simply not enough necessary work to keep everyone employed. We are in desperate need of a new, economic model that is not based on such a strict exchange of doing work to get goods & services.

      1. EBG

        You imply this will be utopian. It will be far from it. The plebs will no longer have any leverage.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oh! They'll always be enough work

        "idle hands" and all that. People not involved in the constant struggle to survive, for some value of struggle, start to question their glorious leaders and have time to mobilise.

      3. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Stop

        @Cynic_999

        You do understand that even in your totally automated world, where machines run and repair themselves and produce other machines for use in the economy, that all those machines will still cost a ton of money to produce and put in place, and that spare parts and code updates and updated automation components will not be free? Further, the products they produce will still need to be distributed, which will cost money.

        All this means that even fully-automated corporations will be making capital investments to facilitate all this. And they will want a return on that capital. And that means that, yes, goods and services produced in your automated utopia will still have to be paid for, so people will still need a way of making money if they want to have a reasonable living standard.

        1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

          That's why it's called "fully automated luxury communism" - it's a post-capitalist society:

          https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/18/fully-automated-luxury-communism-robots-employment

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            it's a post-capitalist society

            There aren't any post-capitalist Utopian societies possible. Getting from capitalism to such a state would take a very long time, and as fewer people are needed and less money is in circulation as a result of reduced employment through automation, you would inevitably reduce income from the state for having a child. Quite possibly this wold reverse and you'd need a licence to have a child, which would be taxed to pay for things.

            The result is the plebs stop breeding. The family lines of those unable to support themselves disappear into the history books. Eventually there become fewer and fewer families left to enjoy the benefits automation and sooner or later they get wiped out by something they didn't predict, like a virus.

            Of course, none of that would happen because of the lump of labour fallacy. People displaced by progress don't usually do nothing - in that the miners & dockers were an exception - they usually move to another job further up the value chain. New professions emerge all the time, and people move to fill them.

            There's no future in which people do nothing in return for everything. Capitalism is as close to Utopia as we're ever going to get.

        2. Suricou Raven

          There lies the problem. Our hypothetical farm in 2060 is capable of manufacturing thousands of tons of food with a staff of four people to maintain the robots. They can sell that for next to nothing and still break even. But next to nothing is still more than nothing, and there are billions of unemployed who long ago spent their very last penny. So the people starve, and the crops are left to rot in their silos.

          Eventually this is a recipe for social unrest. That could end in political reform to give the starving masses at least enough to not be starving any more, or it could end in violent uprising, or it could end in a police state established to quell that violent uprising.

        3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          "

          ... all those machines will still cost a ton of money to produce and put in place ...?

          "

          Not ultimately, no, though the time of self-replicating and self-repairing automomous machines is a very long way off. You are assuming that the present economic model is the only one possible. What I am saying is that as fewer and fewer people are needed to make more and more, that economic model becomes unsustainable.

          1. Aleph0

            You seem to imply that raw materials will cost nothing and will be infinite...

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      The world doesn't need to be totally automated to cause this problem, I think we started getting to this point about 25 years ago, and had well and truly reached it 15 years ago.

      There is a blatantly obvious problem that most people spend most of their money on rent/mortgages/food and don't have enough surplus money left over to go out buying much else.

      That leads to companies cutting wages, which leads to people not having the money to spend, which leads to cutting wages which basically repeats forever to the point that you get into the "gig" economy. The way out is paying people more, but while companies can afford this they aren't going to do it unless forced, and they very successfully oppose any market forces that would lead to this happening, and have bought all of the politicians.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Exactly

      Parts of the article like below, make me wonder if they are forgetting the entire purpose of any of this is to give people jobs/resources to be consumers. (or are we serving some consumer we don't know)

      Without employees/consumers, there is no need for products/services.

      "firms will look to automation as a way to mitigate the risks that future crises pose to the supply and productivity of human workers."

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Exactly

        Honestly, I think it's a case of idiots being in charge who can't see the big picture.

        All the bosses say "but I could make more money if I get rid of those pesky humans and just have a bunch of computers, plus a repair contract". The economy then consists of a handful of wealthy bosses buying a lot, a few repair men buying a little and a large number of underpaid or unemployed serfs spending practically nothing other than food/rent and the bosses then complain that their companies are going down the drain because only a handful of people are buying more than subsistence level goods. (ie, food, rent, clothes etc)

  3. EBG

    The process of production no longer has any value. Money no longer has value, it has to be made available for free for there to be consumers. Economics is reduced to a power play for control of raw materials, and of the control of free money and goods distribution.

    (reply to bebopwebop)

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    One of the lessons to take from the current situation is that when you need something relatively simple such as PPE urgently it's the non-automated, labour-intensive factories that can switch quickly to making it. By off-shoring that sort of work the western world has painted itself into a corner and Forrester's advice is that we collectively back ourselves into it even more firmly.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      ... As long as you don't mind it not meeting the required specification.

      And meanwhile UK companies that can build N95 masks at a rate of a million a month still haven't got orders 2 months down the line because they aren't government approved suppliers, but the ones in turkey and the far east that build equipment not to the required spec are approved suppliers, so they get the orders.

      The civil service at it's finest.

      1. Toni the terrible

        No, Goverment Policy (the Ministers that is) at its most normal

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Terminator

    investments in chatbots... or catering to certain customer segments

    I'm trying hard to think of a case where a chatbot actually helps a customer.

    1) er...

    That's it.

  6. Muscleguy Silver badge

    Colour Blindness

    It's supposed to be Black Swan events guy. Before Europeans got to Australia all swans they knew about were white. So the Black Swan became like the unicorn, a very rare thing. Except if you live in parts of Australia or NZ where black swans are common.

    A White Swan event would be something very common, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Now Red or Green or Blue Swans, that would be a thing. No spray painting the local wildlife though.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Colour Blindness

      Sort of. The 'Black Swan' is the event you can't imagine, so you can't prepare for it.

      The common analogy is the isolated island tribe. Imagine being on one during the era of exploration. You've been sat there for your life, living of hunting and subsistence farming. Your family have since the beginning of history. Your entire world consists of your island and a few small nearby islands. Occasionally there's a war, which consists of tribes sending raiding parties to kill a few people. Overall life seems really stable. Sometimes there's a famine, or or storm, but the gods are appeased and it feels as if life as you know it has existed since the beginning of time, and will exist forever more.

      Then some strange people turn up with magic sticks that can kill from a distance, stick a weird cloth in the ground, declare that you are all now subjects of a king you've never heard of, and execute all your shamen for heresy.

      That's the black swan: An event that is so far outside of experience that no-one could reasonably have anticipated it, and anyone who did would have been treated as a lunatic.

      1. Toni the terrible

        Re: Colour Blindness

        Excession

  7. julian.smith
    Pirate

    Australia is a Black Swan?

    1. Toni the terrible

      No it is a Dungeon full of Poisionous Spiders, Snakes, Drop bears and Larrikins

  8. hoola Bronze badge

    The big corporations and the rich

    All this talk of more automation is always for the benefit of the rich in society at the top of the heap. It never occurs to them that at some point there will not be a population that has any spare cash to buy their products. This is all about the short-term gains.

    Automation is a very powerful tool that has the ability to destroy society. There is only so much maintenance and so on that is needed. Entire industries have already been decimated leaving behind all the low skilled, low paid jobs that are too difficult to automate.

    Automation does not end up with the majority sitting on a beach with a beer.

    The only way around it is to tax the corporations enough so that you can maintain the living standard for all those who are now jobless. Unfortunately we have already seen how good these outfits are at avoiding paying their taxes.

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