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Halcyon actively monitors change covering more than 150 key elements of life.

A Mundane Comedy is Dom Kelleher's new book. Extracts will appear on this site and across social media from early 2022. Please get in touch with any questions or thoughts.

The 52:52:52 project, launching both on this site and on Twitter in early 2022 will help you address 52 issues with 52 responses over 52 weeks.

What's Changing? - Automation



Please see below selected recent automation-related change,


See also:


January 2022

  • Farm equipment giant John Deere launched a new autonomous tractor. The large tractor can plough fields and plant crops without the need for a human driver. As of 2022, John Deere made half of all farm machinery sold in the US.


December 2021

  • Industrial robots are gaining traction in factories around the world - a trend that’s likely to continue given wage and labor market pressures. There are now an average 126 robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry, up nearly 2x compared to 2015’s average (66 robots). Asia is home to the highest industrial robot density, followed by Europe, noted CB Insights.


September 2021


August 2021

  • An increase in AI software systems within the legal profession sparked a conversation about whether ‘robots’ could take over certain rolesThe BBC citeed app DoNotPay, which offers users advice on the best legal language to use when writing letters about insurance claims, complaints to a business or holiday refunds as making inroads into automation in the field. Trial lawyers are using document-tracking software to analyse case files four weeks faster than humans could do it, while Deloitte uses TAX-I software system to analyse historical court data for similar tax appeal cases. 


July 2021


January 2021


October 2020


June 2020

  • Automation remains one of the most powerful forces reshaping the world around us in the 21st-century. In the decades ahead automation will be an irresistible force sweeping across the economy. according to one estimate, automation technologies will eat 800 million jobs by 2030. The hard reset forced on many businesses by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to accelerate this.


May 2020

  • Automation will worsen inequality in wealthy countries. This transition to new forms of work won't come easy. People with skillsets better suited to the digitized workplace will have a much easier time than people expected to develop those skills from scratch. The result could intensify the inequality that has already stoked populism and upended political establishments in so many countries in recent years. Robots pose a special challenge in emerging markets. Hundreds of millions of jobs are at stake in lower-wage countries that have operated for decades as factories for the world's textiles and light manufacturing industries. The International Labour Organisation has warned, for example, that 140 million jobs in Southeast Asia alone are at risk of automation in the next 15 years. That's more than half the region's salaried labour force. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic created new reasons for companies to turn to robots in order to safeguard their production and supply chains against future disruptions.


December 2019

  • Robots are good at working with knowledge that we already know. However, they aren't yet strong when it comes to developing original ideas: alhough robots are good at jobs founded on patterns and data points, they currently don't excel when it comes to soft skills — that is, they have difficulty dealing with human behaviour: people's soft skills help them make sense of chaotic environments where the dynamic human element is constantly in play.


November 2019


July 2019

  • Manufacturing companies which adopted robots between 1990 and 1998 actually increased the number of (human) jobs by more than 50% in the subsequent two decades, whilst companies which did not adopt robots reduced their jobs by more than 20% over the same time period, according to a new study.
  • report from the Economist’s Intelligence Unit makes it clear where inside companies the push for more automation is overwhelmingly emanating from: the C-Suite. Senior executives are almost universally enthusiastic about automation and AI, whilst their concerns about worker displacement are limited, despite 29% citing ‘employee resistance’ as one of the major barriers to automation. Data privacy and security were also singled out as significant issues holding back automation efforts.


April 2019

  • OECD analysis pointed to the proportion of jobs it deemed to be at high or significant risk of automation. Although most of its members are developed countries, it also included a number of countries deemed to be “emerging” by various organisations, and they are predominantly the ones in the line of fire. Of the 28 OECD countries analysed, the 11 adjudged to have the smallest proportion of jobs at “significant” risk are all developed. In contrast, all 11 emerging countries are among the 17 deemed most vulnerable to job losses.


February 2019


January 2019


December 2018


November 2018

  • Large majorities (74-91%) of people across 10 markets think automation will have a negative impact on employment, reported TrendWatching.


October 2018


September 2018


August 2018

  • Today’s young professionals grew up in an age of mind-boggling technological change, seeing the growth of the internet, the invention of the smartphone, and the development of machine-learning systems, noted the Harvard Business Review. These advances all point toward the total automation of our lives, including the way we work and do business. It’s no wonder, then, that young people are anxious about their ability to compete in the job market. HBR shared seven skills  - including communication, context and teaching - that HBR believes not only makes people unable to be automated, but will make then employable no matter what the future holds. 


July 2018


June 2018



Dominic Kelleher 2017 paper on automation:

In the distant future, no one needs to work. Energy is available wherever people can set up a solar panel, windmill, or hydro-turbine. Artificial Intelligence (AI) units, distant descendants of today’s 3D printers, are capable of producing anything a person can program into them. Just by asking, anyone can have anything they want. People trade energy credits or donate energy to projects that interest them.

See for example HBR on "Computers Create Jobs and Inequality at the Same Time".

This is the post-labour economy imagined by today’s sci-fi writers. Indeed, science fiction has been speculating on what post-labour economies might look like for more than 100 years, In a post-labour economy, people don’t need to work in order to live or access goods. In fact, work has nothing to do with wealth or value.

But sci-fi authors are no longer the only ones interested in the post-labour economy. Recently, economists and political theorists have been debating what shape the system might take and grappling with the challenges that it will present. They need to find answers quickly – as for some, the post-labour economy is almost here[1].

The accelerating improvement in the dexterity, agility, versatility, and intelligence of robots raises a number of hard questions about the future of human society. Employees in increasing numbers of professions find themselves under threat of being displaced by robots, algorithms, and other AIs. The pace at which existing professions are being disrupted and transformed by new technology looks set to outstrip the speed at which humans can re-skill and re-train.


According to the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation[2]:


  • Already, every year, an additional 200,000 industrial robots come into use. In 2015, the total is expected to reach 1.5 million. Adapting the labour market to a world of increasingly automated workplaces will be one of the defining challenges of our era.


  • No country can afford to ignore this transformation. Globally, some 200 million people are unemployed, up 27 million since 2008. There is a critical need to anticipate coming technological changes and provide the global workforce with the education and skills needed to participate in the modern labour market.


  • By 2050, the global population will surpass nine billion. The number of people aged 60 years and over will have tripled. Three-quarters of the elderly will be living in what are now developing countries, and the majority of them will be women. These demographic shifts will further revolutionise the labour market, social-security systems, economic development, and the world of employment.


He concludes that in addition to training the labour force for an age of further automation, sustainable economies must offer protections for workers in good times and bad. The nature of a worker’s relationship with his or her employer is changing. People entering the labour market are increasingly finding only short-term or temporary contracts; often, they are forced to take informal work or emigrate for a job. These trends are exacerbating income inequality.


As a result, mitigation policies are necessary. Along with a robust system of unemployment benefits, social protections such as healthcare and pensions are essential for overall worker security and to ensure a healthy economy. And yet only 20% of the world’s population has adequate social-security coverage; more than half lack any coverage at all.


In response, a group of London Futurists recently assembled an international panel of writers with important things to say on the subject of the future of work (see video for detailed discussion of their ideas).


However, this is a topic on the minds of not only futurists, but also increasingly of business leaders. Indeed, the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos discussed how artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to solve difficult social problems, help us think faster and become more efficient, but the impact on our daily lives will be pronounced, so how do we reap the benefits while avoiding negative consequences?




Technology can now do many more things that used to be unique to people[3]:


  • Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, a dexterous factory robot that can be programmed by grabbing its arms and guiding it through the motions, sells for a mere $25,000 (equivalent to about $4 an hour over a lifetime of work, according to a Stanford University study).


  • ISOFT’s Amelia, a virtual service desk employee, is being trialled by oil industry companies, such as Shell and Baker Hughes, to help with employee training and inquiries.


  • Meanwhile, doctors are piloting the use of Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, to assist in diagnosing patients and suggesting treatments.


  • Law firms are using software such as that developed by Blackstone Discovery to automate legal discovery, the process of gathering evidence for a lawsuit, previously an important task of paralegals.


  • Rio Tinto’s “mine of the future” in Western Australia has 53 autonomous trucks moving ore and big visions for expansion.


  • Even the taxi-sharing company Uber is in on the act – it has just announced it will open a robotics research facility to work on building self-driving cars.


The upshot will be many people losing jobs to software and machines, says Silicon Valley-based futurist Martin Ford, whose book The Rise of the Robots comes out this year[4]. Meanwhile, nearly half of almost 2,000 experts recently surveyed by the Pew Centre said technology will have displaced more jobs than it creates by 2025.


Indeed, the UK Sunday Times suggested recently (February 2015) that Amazon, for example, creates less employment than it creates, notably in retail. One study reportedly suggested that the company employs only 14 people for every $10m in sales; a high-street chain would employ 47 people for the same sales.


Ford’s book follows last year’s influential The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, business school academics at the Massachusetts Insitutute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management. They also warned we face significant overall job loss from computers, robots and automation unless we institute radical change. There is no economic law that says technological progress has to result in job creation and shared prosperity, they say. Rather, we are about halfway into a century-long transformation that moves us from merely automating physical work to automating mental work, a process that started with the first computer boom in the 1970s. The effects are just becoming noticeable now because exponential growth by its nature takes time to build up.


Indeed, PwC has itself recognised this accelerating trend. The New Era of Automation report suggests, inter alia, that:


  • 53% of all occupations are estimated to be replaced by digital technology within the coming twenty years. That is almost 300 million jobs within the OECD-region.


  • Computers have already surpassed our abilities, in areas where we earlier had the “human advantage".


  • When the first machine age matured, processes began to change to really exploit the new technology – resulting in a tenfold productivity increase. We are now facing a similar shift in the second machine age, with the automation of knowledge work.


All the necessary technologies are already here[5], or will mature within the next 5-10 years and thus be readily available. Both the cost and barrier to automate will then go down rapidly. Early adopters and innovators have already begun their journeys and there is a strong momentum right now in certain areas. The speed will be different depending on industry and function, but all will go through it in one way or another.


Two new studies, one from a group of Oxford University academics, another from analysts at the Gartner Group, both say the invasion of the smart machines is coming quicker than most of us think


a) the Gartner Group release


b)The study from the Oxford Martin Program on the Impacts of Future Technology, says the same thing on a slightly different time scale. Their analysis shows that 45 per cent of American jobs could be taken by computers within two decades.


In short, our current economic model where rich people bring their capital and everyone else brings their labour may no longer work when the capital, in the form of robots and computers, is actually the labour too[6].


Indeed, an even newer report from the Oxford Martin School and Citi calls for long term thinking to mitigate the negative effects of an ever more automated and digital economy[7]. The latest Citi GPS Report, Technology at Work: The Future of Innovation and Employment, explores trends in automation and points to sluggish job creation caused partly by increasing automation. The report highlights the key challenges, explores some of the new technology brought on by the digital age and sets out an agenda for change, arguing that secular stagnation in the digital age can only be avoided by a shift towards inclusive growth.





Implications for businesses and individuals



As with all previous major technological changes, organisations and individuals will be affected. What is different from previous shifts is that the current one affects all aspects of a company's value chain. Both the individual and the organisation need to adapt to deal with this new shift. Possible responses include the following:



  • If competitors start to automate their processes, companies have a large incentive to keep up to be equally cost-effective.


  • The cost of classical means of outsourcing is increasing mainly due to higher labour costs in outsourcing countries. Together with reduced control when offshoring drives companies to find onshore alternatives – automation is an obvious candidate.


  • Many occupations are getting increasingly complex and more difficult for a human being to handle efficiently. Adding support through machines and technology could improve the efficiency and quality of these processes.


  • Talented individuals are becoming more difficult and expensive to attract and retain for organisations. Automation could therefore lower the pressure of finding people with highly specialised skills.




An individual will need to adjust him-/herself and his/her ability to be able to relate to and work with computers and software. As individuals, we will need to understand where we add value and where a computer can fulfil tasks without our supervision. What is routine and where do we make a difference?  We will also need to constantly review our abilities. Training and the ability to take on new and other roles will increase in importance.




Implications for society


The UN has warned[8] that global unemployment levels were expected to rise further over the next five years, and that by 2019, at least 212 million people worldwide could be out of work -- up from 201 million in 2014. This, the UN warns, could eventually contribute to “social unrest” among unemployed youth across the globe.


We may even already have seen social unrest as a result of people losing jobs to technology, through movements such as Occupy and the Tea Party.


The UN also found that that South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for three quarters of the world’s vulnerable employment - referring to people in the workforce who are the least likely to have formal work arrangements and access to social protection programmes.


An Oxford University report published last year concluded that 35% of UK jobs were at high risk of disappearing in 10 to 20 years because of automation. An earlier study of the US, which has more manufacturing, suggested 47% of jobs were at high risk.


Yet the picture painted by the doomsayers does not resonate with many economists. Jobs will always be “destroyed” by technological change, says David Autor, an economist at MIT, citing how there are not many trained firemen (they shovelled the coal into steam locomotives), typists and lift operators left in advanced economies. But this has not reduced employment in aggregate or lowered earnings levels on average. It has done the opposite: raised productivity on average and led to more interesting, more cognitively challenging, better paid and less dangerous jobs.


For the IMF, part of the solution for a world with too much supply and too little demand needs to be public investment in infrastructure, which is lacking – or crumbling – in most advanced economies and emerging markets (with the exception of China). With long-term interest rates close to zero in most advanced economies (and in some cases even negative), the case for infrastructure spending is indeed compelling. But a variety of political constraints – particularly the fact that fiscally strapped economies slash capital spending before cutting public-sector wages, subsidies, and other current spending – are holding back the needed infrastructure boom[9].




The question for many then is what do humans do next?


Recommendations for policymakers include boosting entrepreneurs to enable them to invent the new industries and jobs necessary to replace the old ones and refocusing education to emphasise creativity and interpersonal skills.


Many float the idea of basic guaranteed incomes for everyone, or tax credits to supplement low-wage workers. In the UK, the Green Party is working on the idea of “citizens’ income”, and the Swiss population already held a referendum on a national minimum wage in 2014 (though rejected, many expect the topic to arise again soon, in Switzerland or elsewhere).


There are optimists too of course, as this imagined headline from 2025[10] well illustrates.


With robots paying labour tax, the 99% can be as idle and as comfortable as the elites

Dateline: 4 July 2025

We're living in the age of abundance. The age of the algorithm. The age of... well, automated utopia.

Who would have thought that this soon, with machines doing all the work, we would also have found the solution to technological unemployment? The point is, just as horses became unemployable with the invention of engines, so humans became unemployable in the age of seriously smart machines.

We call it "Roboearth." When a robot arrives from the factory, it's essentially lifeless; it can't do anything useful. But once it's powered up and connected to the robot internet, it can find out how to do anything, from the cloud. So it doesn't need any programming.

Again comes the question: If we don't need human programmers, and even the robots are designed by algorithms and built and maintained by robots, what do people do?

The solution was to tax the robots. Their labour tax goes towards providing everything that humans need for their daily enjoyment of life. Sure, if you want something more than Roboearth normally provides, you have to get up and get creative, really inventive, and invest in something even the algorithms haven't thought of. Something analogue. Then you can charge your own form of 'tax' on the machines.

For the rest of us, it's just, well, so simple. Or is it? Who's really in charge here? Us or the machines?



[1] What Does Life Without Work Look Like? Get Ready For The Post-Labour Economy

[2] Labour in the Age of Robots

[3] See Robots are leaving the factory floor and heading for your desk – and your job

[4] See also (unrelated) article on The Rise of the Robots

[5] What jobs have been automated in the last 10 years?

[6] Are robotic smart machines behind the jobless recovery?

[7] Job automation: speed of innovation could send economies towards stagnation

[8] See UN Warns Of Increase In Global Unemployment

[9] An Unconventional Truth

[10] Roboearth taxes the machines




  • Outsourcing is being disrupted by the innovations in robotic process automation, which could cut labour costs and free workers from boring tasks. The implications of this are discussed in a new Raconteur report along with how outsourcing is no longer reserved for big corporations as more start-ups and small business are realising the advantages to be had.
  • In the next few decades, about 56% of all salaried workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam could be displaced by automation and advanced technologies, such as 3D printing. That at least is the conclusion of an extensive series of new studies by the International Labour Organisation.

June 2016


  • Asking "what’s the future of the workplace?", an MIT professor predicted that new technologies will enable more decentralised decision making and ultimately more freedom in business.




May 2016





  • INSEAD considered whether an unconditional, universal “citizen’s income” could ensure a fairer distribution of the benefits of technology and transform economies in the process. Although digital technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence continue transforming the way we work, produce and live, technological change is no longer unanimously viewed as the undisputable driver of prosperity as it was in the past. The benefits of technology are increasingly flowing to the top one percent of the socioeconomic pyramid at the expense of workers. Technology is at least partly responsible for a polarisation of jobs in many developed countries: a decline of middle-skill occupations accompanied by the growth in both high and low-skilled occupations, with the high-skilled earning more and the low-skilled earning less. There are more and more voices pointing out that this winner-takes-all society will inevitably give way to a new social contract as social inequalities increase. Certainly, letting innovation and the more productive firms flourish is good for the economy. But the divergence between productivity and wages suggests that it is time to re-think how to distribute the benefits of technology.










April 2016









  • Business Insider found that 1.3 million industrial robots would be installed between 2015 and 2018, and this would more than double the stock of active robots around the world. While many of those robots will be used in the automotive and electronics sectors, there are many other roles that robots will be filling in the future. According to McKinsey, not all of these jobs are low-skill, low-wage jobs, either. McKinsey ran a comprehensive study of nearly 800 different jobs in the US, ranging from CEOs to fast food workers. Between these roles, they found 2,000 individual work activities, and assessed them against 18 different capabilities that could potentially be automated. In its analysis, McKinsey found that 45% of work activities representing $2 trillion in wages can already by automated based on proven technology that currently exists.







March 2016





  • If the machines are taking all the jobs, how come so many people are working? So asked strategy+business, focusing on the US market. The unemployment rate is at 4.9 percent. There are 143.6 million Americans with payroll jobs, a record. The number of first-time unemployment claims is down more than 10 percent from last year, and is bumping along at levels not seen since the 1970s. Oh, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 5.5 million job openings in America, close to a record. All at a time when rapid technological change and adoption are destroying jobs. It’s a strange dichotomy, the magazine concludes.





  • In 'The Upside of Automating Part of Your Job', the Harvard Business Review argued that while many processes are being automated, fewer than 5% of jobs are likely to be fully automated, and machines will do the things you didn't want to do anyway.







  • In The Robots Are Coming for Wall Street, The New York Times warned that hundreds of financial analysts are already being replaced with software, and asked which office jobs are next.



  • The race to provide robo-advice is accelerating, claimed the Financial Times. Fund managers, banks, brokers and financial advisers are all adapting their business models to fend off the competitive threat of automated online investment services. Although still a fledgling industry, robo-advice has rapidly become a priority for some of the world’s largest asset managers. They recognise the potential for low-cost online advice to attract new audiences, particularly the young.




February 2016









  • The professor of computational engineering at Rice University in Houston claimed that the rate at which robots and intelligent machines are mastering human jobs could leave more than half of the US population unemployed within 30 years. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Vardi warned: “We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task. I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us.”





See also:


  • Better Living Through Robots - Businessweek








January 2016







  • In the 'A World Without Work?' session at Davos, the panel discussed how rapid technological progress and the prospect of longer, healthier lives will revolutionise work.



Image removed.


  • As automation sweeps across the world, we face challenging questions about how we work - and how we play. On the one hand, we are designing ourselves out of ever more jobs, leaving us disengaged. On the other hand, games and countless internet-enabled game-like activities are powerfully addictive. Is designing work to be more like play the answer or is there something fundamental about human abilities that we’re overlooking in how we deploy technology in our lives? In a new Aeon interview, a leading UK writer discussed what it means to be our best selves in a time of automation.







December 2015

















  • China is laying the groundwork for a robot revolution by planning to automate the work currently done by millions of low-paid workers. The government’s plan will be crucial to a broader effort to reform China’s economy while also meeting the ambitious production goals laid out in its latest economic blueprint, which aims to double per capita income by 2020 from 2016 levels with at least 6.5% annual growth. The success of this effort could, in turn, affect the vitality of the global economy. The scale and importance of China’s robot ambitions were made clear when the vice president of the People’s Republic of China, Li Yuanchao, appeared at the country’s first major robotics conference, held recently in Beijing.



  • Real estate billionaire Jeff Greene warned that technology will kill white-collar jobs. He says new forms of technology will only exacerbate the growing gap between the rich and the poor, because, he claims, we have left ourselves unprepared for the inevitable automation of many jobs traditionally done by humans. He said: “What globalisation did to blue collar jobs and the working class economy over the past 30 or 40 years, big data, artificial intelligence and robotics will do to the white collar economy - and at a much, much faster pace.”






November 2015









  • Looking at the next wave of automation and its impact on employment, McKinsey suggested it is not just low wage, low skilled jobs at risk - the threat goes all the way up to the CEO. McKinsey said, “The potential of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks once reserved for humans is no longer reserved for spectacular demonstrations by the likes of IBM’s Watson, Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, DeepMind, or Google’s driverless car. Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term. Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined". Not only low-skill, low-wage roles, but also the highest-paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated.







  • In Robots may shatter the global economic order within a decade, The Telegraph warned that robots could take over 45% of all jobs in manufacturing and shave $9 trillion off labour costs within a decade, leaving great swathes of the global society on the historical scrap heap. Bank of America predicts that robots and other forms of artificial intelligence will transform the world beyond recognition as soon as 2025, shattering old business models in a whirlwind of “creative disruption”, with transformation effects ultimately amounting to $30 trillion or more each year.




October 2015






  • In One Algorithm to Rule Them All, strategy+business argued that we’ll likely see is unemployment creeping up, downward pressure on the wages of more and more professions, and increasing rewards for the fewer and fewer that can’t yet be automated.



  • In Will automation replace our jobs?, the professor of management practice at London Business School, discussed the impact of automation trends in the workplace, and in particular how this will affect the work of internal communicators.



  • KPMG’s recent piece, Bots in the Back Office: The Coming Wave of Digital Labour explored the ‘withering’ BPO industry. KPMG’s report said “The concept of labor arbitrage as the primary value lever of business process outsourcing (BPO) is dying. The geographic discussion is giving way to automation."



  • On the Edge of Automation: five hundred years from now, says venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, fewer than 10 percent of people on the planet will be doing paid work - Technology Review






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January-March 2015