Open or Close Loop Systems and Routinization

So what are open or close loop systems? Open loop systems is a term coined in engineering as a process that does not receive any feedback from the task it is designed to do. An example of this would be electric clothes dryer. Depending upon the amount of clothes or how wet they are, a user or operator would set a timer (controller), let’s say to 30 minutes and at the end of the 30 minutes, the drier will automatically stop and turn-off even if the clothes are still wet or damp.

Close loop on the other hand is when the system receives and adjusts according to said feedback. An example of such a system would require us to hark back to the air conditioning unit which will adjust its motors to pump out more or less cooling air, depending on the current room temperature.

As you can imagine, open loop systems are the easiest to automate, as it’s a simple task of programming the robot to do a set amount of task in a specific manner, in a specific order, to repeat ad infinitum. Close loop systems on the other hand is more complicated to solve due to the increase in variations it must consider and subsequently, the potential difference in procedure to produce the desired output.

Besides the complexity of outcome, another factor determining whether a job can be automated or not depends on its ability to become routinised. Take for example the job of a cashier, whose job routines can easily be identified, i.e. scanning the purchase, tabulating the price, collecting the money and finally returning the change. The ease of routinisation followed by the complexity of a job (whether it’s open or close loop) will be a key indicator to an employer whether they can and if it’s worth automating a job.

Jobs Today and Their Automated Future

It is easy to identify jobs which can be automated based on the criteria given above. If the job has a highly fixed routine, i.e. filling in forms, reports, documentation, etc, which is straightforward and a matter of following instructions or mathematical skills or fixed rules rather than creative insight, i.e. accounting, law, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, etc, then that job can be automated.

Whether or not it would be automated is a matter of cost vs efficiency. In truth, the only jobs that are truly impervious to automation are jobs that require creative and original output such as designing arts, machines, programmes as well as researches.

Looking at the statistics from Jobstreet which was summarised by Autosoft (2018), it is noticeable that most of the popular jobs listed under Sales/Marketing, Admin/Human Resources, Manufacturing, and even Services are potentially at risk of being automated.

All those jobs are highly routinised in the sense that there is a fixed step one goes through from start to end, and while some are complicated with possible variations in between, they still have their own fixed sets of rules which makes it possible to automate. The only question is when, if ever, would the cost of hiring people surpass the cost of simply automating the entire profession.

If so, what then would be the fate of the Average Joe? Join us next to learn about the namesake of this 3-part series – the future of jobs and how to future proof yourself.

Quah.