When it comes to measuring the likelihood of automation looming large in the United States and in Europe in the not too distant future, agreement is startlingly widespread that it appears imminent. Advances in various elements of technology, especially computer power, have made it almost certain that a number of industries will see rapid adoption of automatic machinery to carry out tasks that are now being done by human beings. Without meaning to identify one spot where automation will have its nearest and greatest influence, the most popular target appears to be automatic driving of motor vehicles. Such a possibility is forecast by a number of experts who say this will happen within a few years’ time, thus forecasting a revolution in transportation as well as in driver employment.
History assigns to flour milling the start of automation when machinery first replaced people in jobs that had been demanding for generations. It was in the 18th century that this all began when James Watt, an Englishman, invented the machine powered by steam that could be used in turning millstones in what was the way flour mills ground wheat to make flour. It was toward the end of that century that Oliver Evans, an American engineer, utilized Watt’s steam engine not just to drive the roller mills but to move conveyor belts throughout a flour mill, thus changing what had been very hard human labor in moving grain and finished products in mills to the work of engines and conveying systems. Much has been improved since the first modern mill Evans worked on, including steel roller mills and modern-day pneumatic systems, as well as new and increasingly efficient equipment.
Grain-based foods also has participated in an indirect way in another great automation that turned farms from employing huge numbers to cope with crops like wheat to industrial operations where people numbers are small. Except for a few instances, the reduced employment that has occurred in milling, baking and grain farming has prompted little protesting. Reading about the strikes and even riots that occurred in England when automation first came to knitting mills and similar facilities is a reminder of what may occur. That is especially the case as warnings about automation lead many news reports.
Nothing is far-fetched about efforts that may be brought forward to shy away from automation advances, especially those driven by robots and other computer/electronic gear. Stepped-up education efforts to provide jobs for people who might lose to automation appears the most sensible solution. Regardless of what is proposed to counter automation, grain-based foods is an industry that may proudly note its leadership, not in eliminating labor, but in focusing as efficiently as possible on its production of mankind’s most essential food.