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Perspectives on the impact of automation – my thoughts from the Women Future Conference

Silvana Gaia


December 5th, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to participate in the “Women Future” conference in New York, as moderator of a networking session about automation. This conference was part of the 15th Annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business. It brought together female entrepreneurs, executives, and employees from companies across the world. It was a great opportunity to discuss the most pressing issues on the evolution of technology.

I was surprised when I received the invitation, since it would be the first time I would be moderating a networking session. I realized it was a good opportunity to discuss a couple of important topics I had in mind.

A couple of months ago, I read an interesting article on MIT Technology Review where the author, David Byrne, had a particular perspective on automation. He argues that the current evolution of technology has the purpose of helping us avoid human interaction. Let’s take the example of Amazon: many people want to receive their products without having to talk to a salesman. It’s even better if they deliver the product while you are not at home, so you don’t even have to say hello to the delivery guy. Another example of this are automated restaurants; you choose your food from a digital menu, then you receive your order, without even having to answer how your day is going so far. Some people don’t even want to talk to the cashier at their neighborhood store; preferring their refrigerator to acknowledge the lack of eggs, send the order to the market, and have it at their door as soon as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and evolution – I even own a Roomba at home which we treat as a pet. We named it “Ramita” (spanish translation for Baby Groot, the fictional superhero from Marvel) after it got stuck because it sucked an entire roll of toilet paper. My husband says we bought the silliest robot in Silicon Valley, anyway, we still like it.

It is important to be aware that losing human interaction will make us lose what makes us humans. These kind of relationships are not easy to handle, nor are they predictable, or always practical. However, that’s what makes people’s connections so powerful.

David also mentions an important point in his review: technology is a male-dominated industry. The challenge is that female perspectives may be left out when designing these powerful automated systems. That’s why I accepted this challenge. I wanted to discuss about how women could get more involved in the decision-making process of the evolution of technology.

Technology is changing current and future job profiles

In May of this year, the McKinsey Institute published a briefing about their ongoing research about the impact of automation and the future of the workforce. They found that the automation potential is 46% of the time spent on activities in the US, which represents 60.6 million workers. That means that all these people (which is more people than the total population of Argentina, my home country) would be displaced from their current jobs. This might seem discouraging, however we need to consider that automation will not necessarily replace people. There is also the potential for automation to displace people into better paid and more fulfilling positions. It will help create new positions that don’t exist today. I think we have a great opportunity here, if we get ready we can find a way to contribute positively.

I would like to see more women like Paola Santana, a tech entrepreneur aiming to create the world’s next political system after democracy, leveraging artificial intelligence; like Komal Ahmad who created an app which has helped feed hundreds of thousands of homeless people, while also preventing food wastage. I love to see initiatives like the Girls’ Programming Club at Belatrix that encourages young girls to discover the world of coding.

In the end, it was a pleasure to moderate the session. I was able to connect with great women and discuss not only about cutting-edge automation technologies – such as RPA – and the impact of automation in the workforce, but also about how we can contribute from our day to day in order to improve the world we live in. It only takes the courage to embrace the challenges ahead.

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