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Industrial automation is coming

During the most recent episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver hilariously covered the potential impact of automation within the modern workforce. It’s the unlikeliest of topics one would expect to see on late night television, but it is one that’s surely on the minds of many working professionals in the US, as a recent staffing industry report suggests.

The news feature begins innocently enough: Vibrant, optimistic children are asked about their eventual dreams and career aspirations, but after the segment transitions through a lengthy presidential jab (that’s self-deprecatingly referenced a few moments later), Oliver highlights a startling statistic: Despite a two-fold increase in production output within the US since 1984, the manufacturing sector occurred a 33% cut in its workforce during the same time period.

The late-night host then goes on to call out the collective fear within all of us, by citing a 2013 Oxford University study on employment trends: The eventual arrival of our robot overlords may result with nearly half of all global jobs are vulnerable to industrial automation.

Is automation the end of workplace humanity?

Throughout the rest of the deep-dive video, Oliver does his part to explain that automation has long been a thread of the industrial fabric, citing ATMs and automated voice systems and how the finance and customer services industries, respectively, have responded positively since its introductions. He goes on to suggest that next generations of the U.S. workforce should be be prepared for “episodic careers” in the face of rapid technological innovation through robotics and artificial intelligence.

While Last Week Tonight is decidedly satirical, it’s difficult to argue that the main segments the show covers fall outside the American subconsciousness. Case in point is Oliver’s address on automation, and, while it’s uncomfortably disrupting industries of every type, its innovation is creating genuine benefit across a range of contexts: Healthcare, Manufacturing (and the so-called Industry 4.0), and Retail, just to name a few.

It’s through this paradigm shift that, eventually, most U.S. workers will have to consider how to embrace a seemingly-inevitable automated industrial ecosystem — and how best we should evolve our careers as a result.