The Real Story of Automation Beginning with One Simple Chart. Robots are hiding in plain sight. It’s time we stop ignoring them.
There’s a chart I came across earlier this year, and not only does it tell an extremely important story about automation, but it also tells a story about the state of the automation discussion itself. It even reveals how we can expect both automation and the discussion around automation to continue unfolding in the years ahead. The chart is a plot of oil rigs in the United States compared to the number of workers the oil industry employs, and it’s an important part of a puzzle that needs to be pieced together before it’s too late.
What should be immediately apparent is that as the number of oil rigs declined due to falling oil prices, so did the number of workers the oil industry employed. But when the number of oil rigs began to rebound, the number of workers employed didn’t. That observation itself should be extremely interesting to anyone debating whether technological unemployment exists or not, but there’s even more to glean from this chart.
First, have you even heard of automated oil rigs, or are they new to you? They’re called “Iron Roughnecks” and they automate the extremely repetitive task of connecting drill pipe segments to each other as they’re shoved deep into the Earth.
Thanks to automated drilling, a once dangerous and very laborious task now requires fewer people to accomplish. Automation of oil rigs means that one rig can do more with fewer workers. In fact, it’s expected that what once took a crew of 20 will soon take a crew of 5. The application of new technologies to oil drilling means that of the 440,000 jobs lost in the global downturn, as many as 220,000 of those jobs may never come back.