Few harbingers of the future have managed to unsettle so many in retail as the advent of automation. To a pundit, it spawns examples of doomsday-esque predictions about the end of labor as we know it – but a new study could turn all that on its head.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Netherlands’ Utrecht University, automation’s necessary replacement of some human jobs might actually have a net positive effect on employment and economic opportunities across the board. Specifically, the study monitored the effects of automation in the European Union from 1999 to 2010, and senior researcher Terry Gregory told Bloomberg in an interview that the time and resources saved in areas where automation was introduced had an observable ripple effect almost everywhere else.
“Let’s say you have a firm that does both — it produces a good, but it also has people in management, sales, and marketing,” Gregory told Bloomberg. “Repetitive tasks such as assembly line work are being automated, but that same firm also becomes more productive, allowing lower product prices. That means it can sell more products, which means more work for the other side of the business, especially in work focusing on non-routine tasks.”
There is room for debate, however. The research team estimated that automation cost EU workers 9.6 million jobs across the decades. At the lowest projection, economic effects allowed for the creation of between 8.7 million jobs at its lowest and 11.6 million at its highest.
Which of those numbers you latch onto might speak volumes about which side of the automation debate you land on.