Up until now the greatest impact of automation – the process by which tasks are reassigned from humans to machines – has been felt by workers engaged in unskilled or manual labor, like gas station attendants or production line workers. But if new automation projects like Habitat become common, a different type of worker might find themselves making way for robots: IT engineers.

Of course, in the world of information technology, that may not be such a bad thing.

It turns out that there’s a crisis looming in the IT sector – a crisis of complexity. In the next few years, the number of devices connected to the internet will increase exponentially, causing an explosion in the volume of data that is generated, stored, processed and shared. More devices and more data will mean even more different types of infrastructure and systems that will need to talk to each other. And all of that will mean even greater demands on IT sector talent, a resource pool that is already nearing exhaustion.

“The role of automation is to empower the user with information," says Chef's Software Director of Product Marketing Michael Ducy.

“The role of automation is to empower the user with information,” says Chef’s Software Director of Product Marketing Michael Ducy.

Enter automation

That’s where solutions like Habitat might come in handy. Created by US-based company Chef, Habitat is an open-source project that could potentially liberate IT engineers from some of their most time-consuming tasks. Michael Ducy, an automation specialist and Chef’s Software Director of Product Marketing, explained how it works at the Rakuten Technology Conference in November.

If you’re a developer and you want to create a new application, Ducy explained, “all you really want to do is build the application.” But, before you can even start doing that you have to spend a lot of your time determining the best infrastructure in which to host it (a data center, the cloud, something else?) and then giving it the necessary functionality and connectivity to work in that environment.

With Habitat, all of that peripheral work is automated, Ducy said. Applications can be packaged so that they are able to configure themselves to suit any infrastructure – and even make adjustments and upgrade themselves as necessary. And, with those tasks left to computers, developers are given more time to focus on what they wanted to do all along: designing and building the best applications they possibly can.

The role of automation is to empower

While the team at Chef are engaged in promoting the benefits of automation, they also have a keen awareness of the moral arguments that surround the concept.

As Ducy explained, “Automation is not just about getting a machine to push the button for us.” At Chef, automation projects must have one of four objectives:

  1. Reduce complexity (or perceived complexity)
  2. Inform humans
  3. Reduce error
  4. Liberate workers to do other tasks

If those things are kept in mind, Ducy explained, automation will not result in decreasing the worker’s worth or making them obsolete.

And, as technology becomes more complex, the role of automation will become even more important.

“Automation and AI equip us to deal with the unique technical challenges of our modern world. I believe strongly that humanely designed systems not only help empower workers, but society at large as well,” Ducy said.


Read more posts from the Rakuten Technology Conference 2016 here.