Many types of activities have the potential to be technically automated yet they vary significantly between industry sectors and furthermore vary significantly across activities. Technical feasibility is often measured as the percentage of time spent on activities that could be automated by adapting the current technologies or physical assets.

However, automation depends on more than just technical feasibility, and should consider factors like; costs to automate, the relative scarcity of similar examples, the skills required, the cost of workers who might otherwise do the activity, benefits (e.g., superior performance) of automation beyond labour-cost substitution, regulatory and social acceptance.

When comparing industries, the amount of time spent by activity varies significantly, as does the opportunity to automate. Below are two good examples of such variances;

Resource Extraction includes Mining, Agriculture and Utilities

Source: McKinsey 

Hitachi's Lumada IoT platform can help accelerate the creation of solutions for high-value outcomes using its intelligent, composable, secure and open software platform to harness vast amounts of data from machines and businesses. Allowing you to automate predictable repetitive activities such data processing and collect, two activity areas highlighted in the previous examples where automation could provide significant value.

Understanding the technical feasibility needs to be combined with practical industry experience in order to answer the wider question, 'Could machines replace humans?'. Lumada, digitises the physical world for industries such as manufacturing, energy, and transportation where there are significant automation opportunities, but Hitachi has built this on 107 years of experience in Operational Technologies (OT) and 58 years in IT. Only through understanding OT and IT can you answer the wider question with a predictable outcome.

Unquestionably many aspects of our working lives have become more automated, think about the last time you booked a flight and used a smart-device for; check-in, seat reservations, boarding passes etc. This is one example of robotic process automation (or RPA) at work, the emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers. 

Acknowledging some activities lean heavily towards increased automation, for operational efficiencies, convenience, or labour intensive or hazardous activities such as resource extraction we return to the question, 'Could machines replace humans?'. I would answer, 'Yes but only for some activities'.  Software robots, physical robots, connected devices, and artificial intelligence will play increasingly significant roles in our future lives but it has to be acknowledged that while humans have not yet been fully removed from the equation the role we play is changing as activities become less human dependent.

More information on how Hitachi is helping organisations achieve the next step change in operational excellence can be found here. Hitachi robots bridge the gap between the cyber and human world, a short intro film can be viewed here