Money Observer: Where automation only half-replaces humans

Much has been written about how automation will replace humans in the workplace. But what about those who have only been half replaced? I met some of them recently.

On a recent trip, I was walking through the electronic passport control gates at Frankfurt airport. When I pressed my passport onto the glass screen, the gates swung open to reveal two people sitting behind a high counter.

I showed them my passport. The man laughed, saying: ‘You’ve already gone through passport control.’ Ignoring the usual advice to not make any jokes or say anything suspicious to airport staff, I said: ‘Then why are you still sitting here?’ He replied candidly: ‘I ask myself that too sometimes.’

It seems that while this man has been replaced by a machine, he is still required to sit and watch an automated system do his job for him.

Arguably, airline pilots have been in that position for a while, but it seems they still do the taking off and landing.

Some 10 million UK workers could be replaced with robots within 15 years, according to a report by PwC. Will they have to sit and supervise these robots?

In the health sector, operations are already being done by robots; and in the transport sector, self-driving cars are coming. Even journalism may be affected; an algorithm can now generate a short news article when an earthquake occurs.

But do not fear, this column continues to be written by a human writer. This year we’ve renamed ‘Marina’s Imaginary Millions’ as ‘Marina’s Monetary Musings’. Maybe one day, when my imaginary millions have become real, I will hire an algorithm to do a bit of musing for me, but only when I’m on holiday.

This column was originally published in Money Observer, January 2018

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