The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has today published a report that explores the current and likely future progress of automation in organisations across the globe.

The report, entitled The Advance of Automation, is based on a survey of 502 senior executives in eight countries – including the US, UK, Japan, India and Singapore – and in-depth interviews with four business leaders conducted in May 2019. In summary, the report shows that:

●91% of respondents are using automation technologies

●79% believe that automation is most effective when it complements humans, not replaces them

●85% believe automation will enable people to live happier, stress-free lives

●88% believe automation will accelerate human achievement

●42% believe that further growth of automation in businesses will depend on providing education and reskilling opportunities to reduce employee and executive resistance to automation

Despite growing enthusiasm for automation among business executives, there remains some reticence about its widespread implementation. The report indicated that uncertainty over security and data privacy represent workers’ main concerns over automation.

However, while 85% of respondents believe that automation will make low-income work redundant, this is unlikely to lead to employee displacement, with 79% stating that automation is most effective when it complements humans, rather than replaces them.

In response to concerns, 42% of “C”-level executives – who are largely responsible for the success of automation adoption – agree that educating the workforce and offering reskilling opportunities to accommodate industry changes are necessary to help alleviate any fears among workers.

The report demonstrates that 91% of business leaders expect automation to generally improve the worker experience by releasing workers from mundane and repetitive tasks. In addition to this, 85% of respondents also stated their belief that automation will enable humans to live happier, stress-free lives.

“Automation adoption has exploded,” said Emily Wasik, thought leadership editor at The EIU (pictured). “We used to think of robots as the domain of the manufacturing industry, but it’s clear that automation tools are now in widespread operation in businesses across all sectors.”

“While the operational benefits of automation – including increased productivity and error reduction – are well-known, the perceived undercutting of the workforce has been a persistent obstacle to adoption.”

“This report shows that executives do not see automation technologies as a substitute for workers. On the contrary, the prevailing view is that automation will accelerate human achievement, increase employee happiness and reduce levels of stress.”

About the research

The analysis in the report is based on a survey of 502 executives conducted in May 2019. The respondents are based in eight countries—Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. They hold senior roles, half being C-level executives and the other half directors and other senior managers (each representing one of 11 different functions). Their organisations operate in one of seven sectors: energy/natural resources, financial services (including insurance), healthcare, manufacturing, technology, professional services and government/public sector. Half the respondents work in businesses with annual revenue of between US$250m and US$1bn, and the other half in US$1bn+ companies.

Additional insights were obtained from in-depth interviews with four experts on different facets of automation:

●Scott Likens, new services and emerging technologies leader, PwC

●Byron Reese, CEO and publisher, Gigaom

●Manuela Veloso, managing director, JP Morgan AI Research (on leave as university professor, Carnegie Mellon University)

●Meredith Whittaker, co-founder, AI Now Institute, New York University