Automation, Sapelli: “Long live robots, but with reasonable intelligence”

Yes for automation and technology, but in moderation.
Savings on labor have an impact on the risk of investing in fixed assets and sales.

(Translation by Jolanta Micinska – Hercog)
(Italian version at link)
(Polish version at link – translation by Aneta Chruscik)

The use of technology means growth in all sectors.

Its arrival was inevitable and there are probably many aspects in which it created positive value. Technology leads to a stronger entry of automation and robotics, which finds its foundations on assembly lines in Fordism and Taylorism.

Large, mass production requires the use of a large labor force. Each employee is a separate story, with needs, problems, availability and character, which is individual for each of them; then, of course, there are also physical limits.

Jolanta Micinska – Hercog

The robot, on the other hand, has no problems related to humor, duties or the possibility of working shifts or on weekends, does not submit requests for increases and is not subject to trade union protection.

However, when the pressure is too excessive, there is a great risk of double-edged weapon threat.

We talked about this with prof. Giulio Sapelli, economist, historian, company manager and (lecturer) academic in Europe, Australia and the Americas, placed by the International Bibliography of Business History among the founders of global history of companies, whose latest book is entitled “Why do companies exist and how are they built“, Published by “Guerini e associati“.

Professor Sapelli, you are one of the greatest business experts on a global level, how do you assess the strong propensity for automation introduced by companies, especially large ones?

“Technology is obviously part of our daily life from all points of view; we have been witnessing its increasing use for a long time, on many occasions, it has created positive value, bringing unquestionable benefits.

Of course, it always depends on the type of activity we want to undertake and how we want to place it; there is something we must not forget that automation and robotics undergo economic cycles: there is therefore a risk of large investments in fixed assets that are included in the company’s cost and / or always become a limit or limit in the process of making strategic decisions.”

From the point of view of employment, in your opinion, what is the risk and what are the advantages?

“I would say that the use of technology in its various aspects must be prudent and well measured; of course, employees on production lines and assembly lines will feel the most.

Replacement with robots must be done wisely. One would think, for example, of creating a group of people who were employed on the lines to become responsible for the control and maintenance of robots.

By doing so, value would be created: on the one hand, enriching employee skills, on the other, targeted investments for the company that could reduce the cost of the product while gaining more qualified personnel, thus limiting layoffs, otherwise they would become a boomerang for sale.

Think like that – if all the big companies would throw themselves at the head of automation to replace the workforce. Could we be sure it would be a complete success?”

Do you mean that if everything was produced by robots, companies couldn’t sell their products precisely because people, without a job, couldn’t afford to buy them?

“Of course.

Look, I was in India some time ago and I accidentally witnessed the construction of a highway. I could quickly spot a long string of people carrying bags with material on their heads; pointing to this queue of people I asked “why” the Prime Minister and he replied to me: “You identified the problem immediately and without a doubt, but if we do not give these people work, doesn’t matter how low their salary would be, what will these people live from?”

We are talking about a country that gives jobs to its inhabitants, but the same concept applies to enterprises, in this case: if we automate everything and lay off 40% -60% of people massively, who will have money to buy what we produce if they have no wages ? In particular, if we are talking about insignificant goods. That is why I say “long live robots, but with reasonable intelligence.”