Industrial Automation

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Contents

Definition

Automation refers to techniques, methods and/or systems that minimize human intervention[1]. The word was coined by Ford Motor Co. Vice President Delmar S. Harder, switching automatic operation to automation. The word originally comes from the greek word "automatios" which means self-moving/self-dictating [2] Industrial automation is the application of automation technologies in companies and businesses to help with both value adding and non-value adding processes.

Historical Outline

The history of automation lends itself closely to the introduction of the machine age in the early 20th century which includes developments such as mass production and steel framed buildings. However, much of automations' beginnings can be traced back to the technologies that helped bring about the industrial revolution in the 17th century. [3]

  • 1500 - 1600s - Water power for metalworking; rolling mills for coinage strips. [3]
Atanasoff–Berry Computer: the first digital electronic computer.
  • 1600 - 1700s - Hand lathe for wood; mechanical calculator. [3]
  • 1700 - 1800s - Boring, turning, and screw cutting lathe, drill press. [3]
  • 1800 - 1900s - Copying lathe, turret lathe, universal milling machine; advanced mechanical calculators [3]
  • 1808 - Sheet-metal cards with punched holes for automatic control of weaving patterns in looms. [3]
  • 1863 - Automatic piano player (Pianola). [3]
  • 1900 - 1920s - Geared lathe; automatic screw machine; automatic bottle-making machine. [3]
  • 1920 - First use of the word robot. [3]
  • 1920 - 1940 - Transfer machines; mass production. [3]
  • 1940 - First electronic computing machine. [3]
  • 1943 - First digital electronic computer. [3]
  • 1945 - First use of the word automation. [3]
  • 1947 - Invention of the transistor. [3]
  • 1952 - First prototype numerical control machine tool. [3]
  • 1954 - Development of the symbolic language APT (Automatically Programmed Tool); adaptive control [3]
  • 1957 - Commercially available NC (numerically controlled) machine tools - as opposed to manually controlled (levers, wheels) [3]
  • 1959 - Integrated circuits; first use of the term group technology. [3]
  • 1960 - Industrial robots. [3]
  • 1965 - Large-scale integrated circuits. [3]
  • 1968 - Programmable logic controllers (PLC). [3]
  • 1970 - First integrated manufacturing system; spot welding of automobile bodies with robots; microprocessors; minicomputer-controlled robot; flexible manufacturing system; group technology. [3]
  • 1980 - Artificial intelligence; intelligent robots; smart sensors; untended manufacturing cells. [3]
  • 1990 - 2000s - Integrated manufacturing systems; intelligent and sensor-based machines; telecommunications and global manufacturing networks; fuzzy-logic devices; artificial neural networks; Internet tools; virtual environments; high-speed information systems [3]

Examples of automation

Food Industry

Manufacturing

Relative to the manufacturing components of other industries such as the automotive and pharmaceutical industries, the food industry is lagging in their adoption of automated technologies in the plant [4] . Much manual labour is still required in the line of food production and packaging due to the variability in the raw and in-production material. Mishandling of the materials that vary in size, shape, texture, firmness, weight and placement, such as the difference between a large unripe tomato and a small ripe tomato, can cause unnecessary wastage, high variability in production integrity and inconsistent product quality. As a result of the high variability in the production materials, plants and factories require the instinctual judgement of a worker to properly manipulate and assemble the product. Nonetheless, components and processes that are more standardized and uniform in their characteristics can be assigned to hard automation which is best used for specific production purposes in mass production with few product alterations [5]. The dairy industry is a prime example of best use of automation in the food industry as their product and processes are easily standardized and therefore suitable for automation.

Factory workers packing food products alongside machines

In addition, the handling of raw food material by machines must abide by strict sanitation standards whereby the machine parts must be easily disassembled and reassembled for cleaning. Overtime, the constant accumulation of food particles and grease and risk of water damage also requires that the machine be maintained at a criteria of hygiene that is necessary to sustain its function in the line of production [4]. This represents a maintenance cost that depends highly on the machine’s function and its surrounding environment. The decision to automate areas of the production line is thus correlated with the machine’s limiting technological defence against environmental degradation, a problem that is less concerning for other industries that have more controlled environments.

While hard automation is currently the most common method of automation in the food industry due to issues of variability, reliability and cost, development for soft automation is underway for the purpose of reducing the amount of manual labour in production. Soft automation is the ability of a machine to be easily recalibrated for a wide range of other production purposes; this is in great demand in the consumer electronics industry which has a short life cycle and high mix manufacturing[6] . As for the food industry, consumer choices dictate the need for a production line that can produce a multitude of different packages and products. Training for such type of task is cheaper for a worker than to buy a whole new machine for that specific function.

Nevertheless, robots such as Baxter[7], a machine designed by Rethink Robotics, is capable of learning a variety tasks alongside workers without harming or disrupting the workers’ process. These machines cost about the same as the annual salary of a worker without the need for days off. Relative to workers, however, they work considerably slower and they are still incapable of easily manipulating a large assortment of objects that differ in a diverse amount of attributes. Still, developments in guided vision systems are providing plants with new efficiencies in the food processing lines such as detecting whether the product meets allergy standards[8].

Point of Service Restaurants

Chilli’s uses Ziosk tablets at each of their restaurants

Automation in point of sale restaurants occurs in the processes between various stakeholders, from the arriving customer to the chef and staff in the kitchen. As fast food restaurants are centered around streamlining processes into providing the fastest and consistent quality service, much automation implementation occurs in this sector. Taco Bell has developed an application for mobile ordering that eliminates the middle-person who takes the order while ensuring that customer customizations are properly communicated and decreasing wait times[9]. Processes like these also collect valuable data that can help the restaurant analyze their customer base for trends and feedback. Similarly, prior to Burger Kings’ first store in India, customers were able to pre-order their whopper burgers via ebay and pick them up at a special line designated for them on opening-day[10]. This resulted in a better opening-day demand estimate for Burger King and allowed to prepare accordingly.

While fast food restaurants are the most likely sector of the restaurant business to push for automation, sit-down restaurants are also showing trends of automation[11]. Novelty restaurants such as Rollercoster Nuernberg in Germany[12], Tian Waike Restaurant in China[13] and Hajime Robot Restaurant Thailand[14] are using robots to help restaurants boost efficiency while entertaining guests. The North American restaurant chain Chili’s Grill and Bar has implemented tablets that takes customer orders, provides them with food information, payment options and offers entertainment while they wait. They result and feedback of the implementation from customers and employers was very positive but raised concerns from servers as the job demand for the service industry is starting to show signs of dwindling due to automation[15]. These automation services minimizes the customer - server interaction and thereby decreases the amount of potential bad customer service. Automation of this process allows for a more consistent, controlled and standardized customer experience whereby customer expectations are much easier to handle.

Chefs and kitchen staff often require more training and are thus higher skilled; a chef’s job is the least likely position to be automated. Although the machines are being developed to simulate certain aspects of a chef’s ability, automation of their main tasks is still unlikely to occur in the near future. However, San Francisco based robotics company, Momentum Mechanics, has developed an automated burger machine that can churn out 360 made-to-order burgers per minute, taking into account different grinds, fresh cuts and bagging.[16] In terms of a chef’s creativity with recipes, IBM collaborated with Bon Appétit magazine to create Chef Watson, an application that gather ingredients together that can be used in a dish. Based on research algorithms, Chef Watson can determine the base ingredients that are required for the traditional dish and modify the other ingredients to generate uncommon but yet fitting combinations. Despite the creativity, an actual chef is still required to decide how to prepare the dishes [17]. In regards to actually cooking the dishes like a chef would, robots such as Motoman SDA10 can be taught to use their arms as a human would although at a much slower speed[18]. Other commercially robots help prepare food by being assigned to a single standardized task [19] such as slicing noodles or making inari sushi. The adoption of these machines in mainstream point of sale restaurants is still unlikely due to its high cost and inflexibility.

Health Care Industry

Over the past decade, there have been a number of astonishing breakthroughs in the health care sector. From microbots that scrape plaque from arteries to personal assistant robots that help to care for patients, medical robots are transforming the healthcare industry. Blood tests are now made easier than ever[20] , not to mention various wearable technologies that could transform the way we monitor our health. Although there have been numerous technological advancements in healthcare, this section will primarily focus on the automation of processes and tasks and the use of robotics in the industry.

Diagnosis

IBM’s Watson is capable of many things, and is currently being developed by the IBM team to help doctors provide more accurate diagnosis. Multiple tests have been conducted on Watson to gauge its accuracy such as having it provide guidance on lung cancer treatments. It offers three possibilities with probability percentages based on the patient's symptoms and ranks them in the level of its confidence. Ultimately though, the final decision-maker is still the medical staff. It is likely that in the future, robots will be able to provide accurate diagnosis without human assistance. This technology can provide substantial cost savings for hospitals and individuals although the large upfront investment is required.[21]

The frequency of the wrong diagnosis in the United States is estimated to be at 5% based on currently available evidence. However, the severity of wrong diagnosis affects approximately 12 million Americans annually and the results can be fatal. The application of Watson in a clinic will help to significantly decrease these error rates. As similar doctor robot applications become readily available on portable smart devices while providing a diagnosis that is just as accurate - if not more accurate - than the need for general doctors will immensely decrease. For example, understanding every drug and how it interacts with every other drug requires a lot of memorization and constant updating. Human doctors can only learn through experience, whereas a robot is capable of analyzing loads of information, coming from patients and doctors all over the world, it can keep up with all the latest research in the health industry and make correlations that would be impossible to find otherwise. [22]

Treatment

Surgical assistants
The da Vinci Robotic Surgical System

The da Vinci Surgical System is a robotic surgical system designed to assist with complex surgeries using a minimally invasive approach as it is controlled by a surgeon from a console. Since the system has been approved by FDA in 2000, it has conducted more than 20,000 surgeries and has paved the way for robotic advancements in healthcare. The da Vinci System consists of a surgeon’s console that is in the same room as the patient, and a patient-side cart with four interactive robotic arms controlled from the console. Although it may seem that da Vinci System performs the surgery autonomously, in fact it cannot function on its own and relies on a human operator for all input. The current system is designed to merely replicate the movement of the surgeon’s hands with the tips of micro-instruments and to not make any decisions or movement without the surgeon’s direct input. The system provides superior visualization and greater precision while also incorporating multiple safety features designed to minimize human error. For the patient, a da Vinci procedure can offer all the potential benefits of a minimally invasive procedure, including less pain, less blood loss and less need for blood transfusions. Moreover, the da Vinci System can enable a shorter hospital stay, a quicker recovery and faster return to normal daily activities.

Bestic is is an assistive eating device for people who are limited in their mobility functions
Microbots

Microbots are tiny free-roaming robots that carry out precise, delicate tasks inside the human body. These can be used for disease screening; removing plaque from arteries; and for delivering drugs into specific areas of the body offering the possibility of targeting the regions with cancerous cells only, instead of spreading the drug all over the body. [23]

Assistive technology

Robots can also offer assistance and enhance the lives of elderly and people with disabilities. This section contains the highlights of a couple of devices that are already available on the market.

GiraffPlus[6] is one of the many available robots tailored to carrying for elderly people in the comfort of their own home. The robot is a part of an elaborate system which includes a smart automated home aspect. It uses environmental sensors and physiological sensors around the house to gather information about the inhabitant’s movements and track their health, respectively. The robot allows virtual visits from friends, family, and healthcare professionals, providing an added benefit of being communication application on wheels.

Robots are also enhancing the lives of people with limited mobility. Bestic is a small robotic arm with a spoon on the end. The arm can be easily maneuvered by a user who can also independently control the spoon's movement on a plate to choose what and when to eat. According to the company, the robot has a "unique design" that fits on tables and can also be adjusted for each user by choosing buttons, a joystick, a foot control or another control device they prefer.

Risks and Drawbacks

However, use of technology in healthcare has a few potential risks to it. Any mistakes could be fatal, although this applies to human doctors as well. Another potential concern is the privacy and security, as many robots require cloud technology to store the necessary data about patients and their health. By utilizing robots to care for our elderly we create the possibility of losing the human connection and undermining human relationships as an important aspect of caring for the loved ones on their later stages of life.

Software Industry

Software that automates and supports business processes and digitalize information systems is something that needs to be considered by almost every company that has administrative duties today. An example of one of the largest systems is Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERP), which is a software product that fundamentally changes organizations and its processes by collecting, storing and managing information from multiple data sources for decision making purposes[24] . ERP has been around since the 1990’s and has been widely adopted by many large organizations. Even though the digitalized world has been around for a while, organizations are still working on improving their IT capabilities to reduce errors, miscommunications, inefficiencies and misalignments with other business goals. Consequently, many organizations still lack adequate IT solutions. In addition to the rising trend of the automation of business processes, there is also the automation of more internal functions that are necessary to support the company infrastructures such as the IT infrastructure.

Blue Prism

Blue Prism Introduction

Blue Prism is a software automates company IT systems. Instead of trying to improve an organization's IT department, Blue Prism is trying to improve the way the whole organization uses their information systems. Termed "Robotic Automation", this piece software can learn to perform any task a normal employee can do to contribute to the information systems. The software robot requires the guidance and training by employees and relies on the business rules and algorithms that are preset by the company. [1]

Blue Prism claims that almost every industry has been automated in some way by machines despite the fact that there is still many back-office personnel performing mundane tasks in their day-day work in the service sector. Blue Prism specifically targeting that sector of people and works as an alternative for offshoring or outsourcing these administrative work. Unlike offshoring and outsourcing, organizations do not lose control over their workforce with Blue Prism; it becomes a third-party in-house solution. In regards to cost, robotic automation is the most cost-efficient compared to other solutions. If an organization's onshore full-time equivalent costs $80,000, it could be replaced by an offshore full-time equivalent costing $30,000. However, Blue Prism can do the same tasks in-house, for $15.000 or less [2].

Amelia

Amelia

Blue Prism is not the only company that aims to automate usage of IT systems. Amelia, the software robot developed from the US company IPsoft, is a piece of software that is designed to automate cognitive thinking and decision making [1]. Amelia is a piece of software that does not only understand what people are saying, it can also understand how a person is feeling; the software has both an IQ and an EQ.

IPsoft’s vision is to provide companies with IT infrastructure that are not managed by workers but by expert systems. Amelia could be used in several ways: it could be used as an advisor for employees/managers or it could simply replace a function in an organization such as a call-center. Amelia is designed to learn by doing, so it improves over time. Since it is a robot, it can speak any requested language and it is available 24/7. Furthermore, IPsoft claims that while 80 % of most people's time is spent on mundane repetitive tasks, a automated software robot such as Amelia can help reduce the figure significantly.

Transportation

Overview

Transportation: Automated Freight Systems

In order to handle the massive amount of passengers and growing city populations that are traveling across cities for work, the transportation industry relies on automation to ensure a that there is a reliable system to meet the demand.

According to Transportation Automation Group, one of a small R&D engineer group that is involved in Synchrotrac, an automating system for driverless devices, “Transportation Automations' mission is to provide a fast, safe, efficient, cost effective and reliable transportation system.”

Within the industry, the application of automation may vary. A brief description of Automation level in Transportation is summarized in the following table: [1]

Automation Level: Adapted from SEA International.
























Automated Transportation in Public Transit

Among those applications of automated transportation, the use of Automated Guideway Transit (AGT), or Light Metros system is popular demonstration for Automation in the industry. For examples, the best known North American applications are Vancouver SkyTrain (BC, Canada), Detroit People Mover (MI, USA), and even Scarborough RT (ON, Canada) operating concurrently with the TTC ‘Metro’.

The most significant technical differences and features between AGT and metro (subway - rapid transit) are size, speed and length. In comparison, AGT is designed for small - medium traffic, lower speed and distance; while Subway is designed for higher speed and larger traffic on long routes. In overall, cost of building an AGT system is relatively less than a metro system due to the requirements (smaller tunnels size, station and infrastructure)

As of AGT system operation, the core technology is ATC (Automatic Train Control) and ATO (Automatic Train Operation).

An example of ATC.
ATO System Design.

The use of the AGT system, similar to other automated transportation systems, is advantageous to local transportation as it reduces traffic congestion, improve traffic safety (minimize human errors) and improve financial and environmental benefit (reduce pollution and fuel consumption). IET, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, suggested that an automated vehicle would decrease the workload for a driver and provide better stabilized speeds to enhance traffic safety. [2]







Impacts of Automated Transportation

Automation has been developing globally. The above session has had discussion about North America. We now would zoom in an European perspective by The Working Group [3], who suggested that Automation in Transportation in has impacted the European development of others, typically in the following areas:

Environmental Sustainability

European Commission targets to “achieve the 60% GHG emissions reduction goal to 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” Which is equivalent to 20% lower compared to 2008.

The fuel efficiency is highly dependent on driver, at which roughly 15% improvement to be achieved with optimal use of fuel. Automation technology plays a role to reduce the fuel waste and enhance the performance by optimizing the internal control system of vehicle control.

Traffic Efficiency

In Europe, traffic congestion wastes roughly 1% of EU GDP, automation helps to reduce the congestion and enhance efficient traffic system by keeping maximum capacity and optimal logistics.

Road Safety

As of the goal to fully develop a system till 2020 for reducing road deaths to 0 by 2050, the European Commission discovered that 95% of road deaths (30000+ deaths in 2011) are accidents and human factors-related. As suggested from the advantages of the automation system, it would be beneficial for automation system to be applied. However, it does raise concerns over interaction between traffic participants.

Mobility

Consider society during the 1990s, when amount of people to use mobile devices was very minor, the internet and other wireless communication methods were unpopular. However, with the development of technologies, especially the reception of today’s generation, it is on high demand that people need a highly personalized design and service. This helps to enhance the quality of life and support the society with new innovative ideas.

Considerable Challenges

Even though automated transportation has been more present, there are considerable challenges that require more research and studies, including technical and legal challenges, in prior to the installation of a fully automated system.

As suggested by IET, some of the main areas are as follow:

Technology challenges

For a vehicle to be fully self-driven, it needs complicated technologies to understand the traffic condition (weather, user, road and on-board-process). To achieve this, a vehicle sensor function would require data tracking and processing and situation awareness. As such, an installation for each fully automated vehicle would be expensive.

Further, as a traffic participant, interaction and communication are important. There needs required technologies to support the interaction for the acceptance. This requires a new system design and different tests to gain acceptance. This, eventually, needs a Traffic Management system, to guide automated vehicles to transport on route.

Last but not least, the system may need customization for each individual’s requirement, in accordance to different personal perception of an automated vehicle.

Legal challenges

Any system that to be used in public would require certifications and regulatory laws. There are various rules and laws in different regions. The application of an highly automated vehicle might be under certain types of regulations and special conditions.

Further, the Liability Law is also developed to define legal issues and stakeholders of participants in an automated system. In other words, this would require users to achieve license and other documents for operation.

Future

An automated system requires different testing and documentation in advance to gain permission. This process would be able to give producers and users to foresee potential impacts and issues, these include success rates, safety measurement, performance standard. By doing demo, for both of individual and group-collaboration purpose, users would be able to understand and gain their acceptance of the new system.

In the current era, there are developing technologies and on-going research taking place for deployment. The on-going research with objectives of automated system deployment would give proper operation methods and policies for the system to take place in near future.

Current Limitations

In theory, everything can be automated. Practically, however, the development and adaptation of industrial automation faces several limitations today as outlined below.

Cost: Although the cost of transistors and technological developments have decreased significantly in the past decade, it still remains too costly for many businesses to purchase. While low cost automation is available, it is of very limited function and is only useful for very specific hard automation. Unless the cost is lower than the employment of human capital and produced output significantly higher it is in the decision maker’s interest to continue employing workers. [4]

Moore's Adapted Technology Adoption Life Cycle.

Reliability: In the technology adoption life cycle, as outlined in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, there exists a chasm early in the life cycle that technologies must bypass in order to proceed to the mainstream market. [5] In the case of automation technologies, large businesses are unlikely to be the first to experiment with the technology as they would rather see a more proven and less riskier return on their investment.

Maintenance: Related to reliability and cost, the cost of maintenance often includes the personnel who must be knowledgeable about the machine in order to properly maintain it and perform repairs as necessary. Although the automated process may eliminate a portion of the low skilled human capital, employers will have to hire higher skilled workers at a higher price. [6]

Adaptability: Automation is best used for standardized and unvarying processes. However, as product life cycles become shorter across all industries, such a fixed capital investment is unattractive for a consumer market that is constantly seeking for product changes and upgrades.[5] Automation is currently not adaptable enough to learn the new processes as fast and efficiently as human capital.

Change Management: Introducing machines in the workplace next to workers requires retraining of current staff and proper change management in the organization. Often, the implementation of new information technology leads to change in the decision-making processes, hiring processes and other organizational structures. [7]This requires the entire organization to be receptive to the changes, otherwise, the change disruption will be unnecessarily harmful.

Recognition: Human level pattern recognition is still not attainable with the currently available technology. Unless the machine is specifically programmed to seek out certain flaws and characteristics, they are unable identify a problem outside of its predefined limits. A machine’s low language comprehension also makes it harder for change management as only a small portion high skilled personnel can interact with the machine.

Impacts of automation

Humans Need Not Apply

When it comes to Blue Prism and software robots that are attached to organization's current system, it is getting rid of repetitive mundane task in today’s businesses. This presents a threat to the current companies that provide outsourcing/offshoring solutions since Blue Prism is available at a much lower price. Both Blue Prism and IPsoft have similar purposes in the products; they want to enable companies to spend more time on the value adding activities. However, it is debated as to whether these technologies are a threat or an opportunity to the industries as it affects the job market and unemployment rates.

There are multiple point of views in regards to the impacts of industrial automation. The main argument is whether the amount jobs that are being replaced by these new technologies are less than the ones created from these innovations. While looking into the past and the effect of the first and second industrial automation, and the first and second machine age, more jobs are created in the advent of a technology such as the internet than the ones that were eliminated such as telephone operators. Despite the historical trend, many academics believe that this automation revolution may have a different effect in terms of job creation. [1]

Workforce Displacement

Automated robot trucks at a Rio Tinto mine

With the implementation of automated processes through machines, the machines directly replace workers as a result. Rather than termination, the workers can be retrained towards higher skilled position such as maintaining the machines or supervising the food plants. However, the percentage of manufacturing jobs in the United States have been dramatically decreasing since the mid-1950s while productivity has been increasing exponentially due to a combination of better technology[2] and globalization. However, it not only are manual labour jobs being replaced, service industry jobs such as Financial Advisors can also be automated[3] using algorithms to provide low cost portfolio management for clients.

The introduction of steam powered machines in businesses in the 18th century helped move the labour force from heavy labour (such as the agriculture industry, cottage industry etc..) to lighter but more detail oriented labour (such as factories, textiles industry). A similar parallel could be drawn to today’s trend whereby the automation of physical laborious work is moving the labour force towards knowledge work. Lights-out manufacturing is a close reality as FANUC, a big Japanese producer of industrial robots, is able to automate several production lines that can be left unsupervised for several weeks[4] . Manufacturing will still required people to install, maintain and supervise the machines but much of these jobs are knowledge based. In the military, the use of robots to help military personnel in combat grounds has not only save many lives by removing some risks from the personnel but also requires the user to be knowledgeable about the proper usage of these machines[5] .

Nevertheless, knowledge work can also be automated. In much of its hype, self-driving vehicles are already being used in industrial environments to eliminate the work safety hazards[6] . Rio Tinto uses automated trucks in its West Angelas mine in Australia, increasing productivity while decreasing the work safety risks. Commercially, self-driving cars from Google,Tesla and other producers are boasting high road safety rates that can adapt to changing road conditions. This development can potentially replace the drivers in the road transportation industry (shipping, taxis etc.). Other knowledge work like writing, translating, composing and coding can also be automated.

Social and Economic Impacts

As there is a general trend of automation of low skilled jobs, the workforce is pushed towards moving into higher skilled positions or different industries where automation is not a predominant factor.This means that much of the workforce will have to be temporarily unemployed, re-trained or educated. This is known as skill-biased technological change[7] as can be observed in this graph. The resulting technological unemployment creates a transition period that can be disruptive to the unemployed as they seek for other jobs. However, for those who gain the advantage of securing the higher skilled jobs are likely to gain more income for the technological innovation’s demanded skills.
Fast food workers are on strike for a higher wage in the United States

This driving force widens the income inequality in the economy but increases the overall economical wealth[1]. The median income has not increased much since 1979 although the productivity has been soaring. On the same note, the Occupy Wallstreet Movement in 2011 brought attention to the the issue of income inequality whereby the top 1% of Americans are earned over 65% of the country’s income between 2002 and 2007. The share of pre-tax income earned by increased from 13.5% in 2009 to 14.5% in 2011. the top 1% received 13.5% of the share of pre-tax income received by the top 1% had risen from 13.3% in 2009 to 14.6% in 2011[8]. The most popular explanation for the widening gap between income levels is skill biased technological change where the market favours those with higher skills. Companies who employ digital technologies also adjust their existing management and organization infrastructure thus also contributing to the increasing demand for high skilled workers and boost in productivity[9].

The stagnant middle income is also met with workers demanding for higher minimum wages with protests taking place across the United States[10]. Although it is not the sole reason and incentive for employers to adopt automation, the rising costs of human capital and the decreasing costs of technology are potential drivers for furthering the research and development for automating processes.


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Brynjolfsson & Mcafee (2014)The Second Machine Age Retrieved from: http://tanguduavinash.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/the-second-machine-age-erik-brynjolfsson2.pdf
  2. Ford (2012)Will Robots Cause Mass Unemployment in China? Retrieved from thefiscaltimes: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/08/20/Will-Robots-Cause-Mass-Unemployment-in-China#page1
  3. Johnsson/Reuters (2014)Flesh-and-Blood Advisers Face Threats from Robots Retrieved from time: http://time.com/money/3555322/advisers-vs-robots-robo-advisers/
  4. The Economist (2012)Automation Making the future Retrieved from economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21552897
  5. Singer (2014)Military robots and the future of war Retrieved from ted: http://www.ted.com/talks/pw_singer_on_robots_of_war#t-223091
  6. Dumaine (2012)The driverless revolution rolls on Retrieved from fortune http://fortune.com/2012/11/12/the-driverless-revolution-rolls-on/
  7. Berman,Bound & Machin (1998, President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)IMPLICATIONS OF SKILL-BIASED TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE: INTERNATIONAL EVIDENCE Retrieved from eprints: http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/16913/1/16913.pdf
  8. CBO (2014)The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2011' Retrieved from cbo: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/49440
  9. Bresnahan, Brynjolfsson & M. Hitt (2002)Information Technology, Workplace Organization, and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence Retrieved from oxford journals: http://qje.oxfordjournals.org/content/117/1/339.abstract
  10. CBC News (2014)U.S. fast-food workers walk off the job in minimum wage protest Retrieved from cbc: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/u-s-fast-food-workers-walk-off-the-job-in-minimum-wage-protest-1.2755204
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