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so-so automation and the future of work

article published in The Arabian Sun

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 So-So Automation and the Future of work

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The first ever task that was assigned tome as a co-op student at Aramco wasto develop program that will automate the generation of a management report that the department called “management dashboard.” That program was much more productive than humane. It reduced multiple days of work to seconds. Therefore, when I heard the term “so-so automation” in an episode of a podcast, I was immediately intrigued. So, what is so-so automation? And, why do I think it is the future of work?


Let us define automation first. Wikipedia defines it as a technology by which a process or procedure is performedwith minimal human assistance, the key phrase here is “minimal human assistance,” or in simple terms, replacing humans with a machine (job loss). However, studies show that if automation is done correctly, it increases the productivity of the tasks it is doing, which in turn creates a job somewhere else. A perfect example of this is the automation in manufacturing cars where huge robots replaced human workers. This significantly increased the number of cars produced, which increases the demand in the sales and marketing departments. This is called a productivity effect.


However, so-so automation, according to MIT Professor Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo, is an automation that does not have the productivity effect. This means job loss in one area without the increase to demand in other areas. One example they used was the automated customer service over the phone.


The new risk of a lockdown that the COVID-19 crisis has introduced to business will play a major role in the rise of so-so automation. Automation will no longer be looked at as a cost saving or productivity improvement only, but also a business continuity solution. Replacing humans alone will be enough of a motive to businesses to invest on automating its processes. We might even see business sacrifice productivity for the

sake of continuity. Combine this with the roll out of the much-anticipated 5G network along with artificial intelligence and machine learning becoming more mainstream, and you have a great environment for business to invest in so-so automation.


Governments will also play a big role in this. Lawmakers could introduce policies that encourages automation such as the social distancing laws in the workplace. They could also relax some laws that discourage automation such as the laws around self-driving cars where it is required to have a human that has full control on the car’s behavior at all times.


The truth is we are living in extraordinary times. The future is more uncertain than ever. Any talks about it, including this article, is an educational guess at



The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our lives forever. It will go down in history with an equal importance as the Great Depression and World War I and II. Our kids and grandkids and their kids to follow will have a COVID-19 chapter in their school’s textbooks. Let us hope that they study our reaction to it with admiration and not disappointment.

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