Automation: what does it mean for you?

Automation: what does it mean for you?

In this century we have seen the emergence of many new technologies. From Cloud Computing to the Internet of Things (IoT), it is challenging to keep pace with what is happening.

Jeff Dean, head of Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) division, stated this company is publishing close to 90 academic papers every day on

According to the Press Information Bureau, India’s railways system had 63,000 job openings in 2018, for which 1,9 crore candidates applied: it seems likely this country will face unique impacts of this rapidly-evolving situation, relative to other countries. The World Economic Forum’s report “The Future of Jobs 2018”, states that more than half of Indian workers will require reskilling by 2022 to meet the talent demands of the future.

In fact, what is happening is not a new phenomenon. American physicist Mark Buchanan once wrote that tech enthusiasts have been predicting the “AI revolution” in every decade since the 1950s.

Before going deeper into this analysis, let’s first try to define the subject we are discussing in this article, which is not trivial as you will see later on.

Although nowadays the terms “AI” and “Automation” are often used interchangeably, they do not refer necessarily to the same concept. In the next paragraphs we are going to focus on the second one: Automation.

The origin of this term is not clear [1], but it is obviously related to Automatos, in Greek, meaning “acting by its own will”. In his excellent paper “Automation: what it means to us around the world” [2], professor Shimon Nof (Purdue University, USA) reviews different meanings. Here below you can read five of such definitions, just to illustrate the variety of possible interpretations.

  • “Automation is the application of machines to tasks once performed by human beings or, increasingly, to tasks that would otherwise be impossible. Although the term mechanization is often used to refer to the simple replacement of human labour by machines, automation generally implies the integration of machines into a self-governing system” (Encyclopaedia Britannica)


  • “Automation is the creation and application of technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services” (International Society of Automation)


  • “Automation removes the need to manually perform repetitive and rules-based tasks involving structured data” (IBM)


  • “Industrial automation is the use of control systems, such as computers or robots, and information technologies for handling different processes and machineries in an industry to replace a human being” (The Economic Times)


  • “Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a robot to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems”( IRPA AI).

As you can infer, “Automation” may imply different things for different people, focusing more or less on the replacement of human labour or in the nature of tasks to be automated: physical or virtual.

It is important to note that automatic systems can perform tasks which, due to many possible reasons, were not previously executed by humans. In fact, ancient devices for measuring time accurately are a good example of this statement.

To facilitate the interchange of knowledge about Automation, since the 1950s (the first International Conference on Automatic Control was held at the University of Heidelberg from 25 to 29 September 1956) academicians and practitioners have made important efforts to use the same terminology, notation, models and procedures. But again, this becomes difficult today, given the pace of events and the complexity of applications.

The current hype about Automation is both exciting and troubling. In a recent article, Dr. Kalev Leetaru stated that we are more and more comfortable and reliant on the automated nature of our systems, in much the same way that car drivers know very few things about how their vehicle actually works under the hood. This is known nowadays as overreliance on Automation.

Please understand, we do not want to spoil the party! We just want to highlight the crucial importance of careful design, implementation and maintenance, not only for Automation Engineering, but in fact for any engineering discipline.

Take the example of Stability, a basic property of automated systems which can be defined, specified and assessed in different ways. After centuries of study, hundreds of papers are still published each year related to this single concept: using IEEE Xplore, it is possible to find 3665 references for 2019.

The current so-called 4th industrial revolution must be based solidly on the vast theoretical body of knowledge which has been built by thousands of technicians, engineers and scientists, with remarkable effort across centuries. In JK Lakshmipat University, we are promoting innovative M.Tech programs based on this principle: Data Science, Embedded systems & IoT and Automation & Robotics.

By : Dr. Gustavo Sanchez

Professor of Automation & Data Science, Institute of Engineering and Technology, JKLU



[1] Marshall, M. W. (1957). “Automation: today and in 1662”. American Speech, 32(2), 149. doi:10.2307/453032

[2] S. Y. Nof, “Automation: What It Means to Us Around the World” in Springer Handbook of Automation, 2009, pp. 13–52.

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