A Beginner's Guide to Automation and AI


Updated October 5, 2023

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  • Automation and AI are related concepts involved with efficiency and productivity.
  • The sector is booming and is predicted to create millions of jobs in the near future.
  • Chatbots and Siri are notable examples of automation and AI in daily life.
  • Degrees in automation and AI can lead to high-paying jobs in the ever-growing field.

If you've spoken to an automated phone system or used a travel app, you may be more familiar with automation and artificial intelligence (AI) than you realize.

But not everyone knows how automation and AI work. And it is all the more important to understand the basics, considering we're at the start of an automation and AI revolution.

Here's a beginner's guide to understanding automation and AI, covering what they are, why they matter, and the types of careers and degrees you can pursue to work in the field.

What Are Automation and AI?

Automation and AI are related concepts that have to do with making things more efficient and productive.

Automation is any technology that reduces human labor, especially for predictable or routine tasks. Automation can be as simple as conveyor belts or as complex as Google Translate.

AI simulates human intelligence with machines that can learn, reason, and act independently. Siri and Alexa, which talk and sound like personal assistants, are good examples of AI.

Essentially, automation is about setting up machines to follow commands. AI is about setting up machines to mimic humans and think for themselves.

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Differences Between Automation and AI


  • Performs predictable or routine tasks to reduce human labor
  • Uses predetermined mechanisms to carry out tasks
  • Can be as simple as a motion sensor lights or as complex as assembly line robots

Artificial Intelligence

  • Performs tasks that typically require human intelligence
  • Learns from experience, adapts to new situations, and makes data-based decisions
  • Imitates human qualities

Why Is Everyone Talking About Automation and AI?

It's hard to go a day without hearing something about AI. Why is that? The reasons span from economic to existential. One big talking point is the impact of automation and AI on jobs.

Automation and AI perform at a superhuman level for many tasks, increasing efficiency and productivity. Almost every industry in the world wants to see how it improves the work they do.

Automation and AI could create 97 million jobs and replace 85 million others by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum (WEC). It's a massive shift in the economy. And as with all revolutions, it comes with pros and cons.

Fastest Growing vs. Fastest Declining Jobs Because of AI

Top 5 fastest-growing jobs

  1. AI and Machine Learning Specialists
  2. Sustainability Specialists
  3. Business Intelligence Analysts
  4. Information Security Analysts
  5. Fintech Engineers

Top 5 fastest-declining jobs

  1. Bank Tellers and Related Clerks
  2. Postal Service Clerks
  3. Cashiers and Ticket Clerks
  4. Data Entry Clerks
  5. Administrative and Executive Support Staff
Source: World Economic Forum

The interest in automation and AI goes far beyond jobs. From revolutionary improvements in healthcare to ethical concerns with AI-generated art, automation and AI are shaping up to become some of the most important and controversial technologies of the century.

The WEC explains: "Artificial Intelligence is rife with contradictions … while it has the potential to improve human existence, at the same time it threatens to deepen social divides and put millions of people out of work."

Examples of Automation and AI

Google Translate, Siri, and Alexa are just a few examples of automation and AI in our everyday life. Expect ChatGPT to become ubiquitous in the near future as well. Here are five other common examples of automation and AI:

  1. Chatbots: AI chatbots speed up customer service by using programmed algorithms to answer frequently asked questions, manage orders, and direct calls. Chatbots replicate the conversation styles of customer representatives and respond to complex questions with detailed responses.
  2. Payroll processing: Automated payroll software makes payments to employees' accounts, keeps track of those payments for the year-end tax season, and even manages holiday hours and overtime calculations. It's a game-changer for businesses, saving countless hours of labor and avoiding numerous logistical headaches.
  3. Search recommendations: Recommendation systems use algorithms related to your search history and customer profile to make suggestions. It's no coincidence that your search results often align with your interests — it's AI learning and adjusting to your needs.
  4. Robot vacuums: You may have heard of a Roomba or other robot vacuums. These little guys can clean every nook and cranny of your home without human assistance. They use AI to scan room size, avoid obstacles, and recall the most efficient routes for cleaning.
  5. Self-driving cars: Autonomous cars can fully operate without a human touching the wheel. Automated software is at the heart of autonomous cars, which rely on sensors, algorithms and machine learning systems to drive. They can create a map of their surroundings and sense when vehicles are nearby to avoid collisions.

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Careers in Automation and AI

Because automation and AI are complex technologies, businesses need workers who can understand and use them. Automation and AI workers generally do one of three things:

  1. Design and build machines (i.e., industrial robots, self-driven vehicles, and computer software)
  2. Maintain machines
  3. Program software for automation and AI

All of the buzz with automation and AI means there's no shortage of these roles. As the field continues to grow and evolve, new roles and opportunities are constantly emerging. The most prominent career paths include:

AI and Machine Learning Specialist

AI and machine learning specialists create and manage various systems and technologies within the sector.

Data Scientist

Data scientists use mathematical, problem-solving, and analytical skills and tools to extract useful information from data.

Automation Engineer

Automation engineers monitor and control automated systems, such as production equipment or computer software.

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Degrees in Automation and AI

Joining the automation and AI field requires education and training. A degree in automation or AI at the associate, bachelor or master's degree level is a common choice, which includes courses designed for career readiness.

A doctorate in AI or automation is the highest level of education in the field. It offers a chance to advance the field through research. Short-term training courses, such as bootcamps and certificate programs, are also available.

Degrees provide the highest credentials, job opportunities (especially for management), and earning potential. Automation and AI are the most relevant subjects, but many other related areas also apply.

Examples of degrees in automation and AI or related to the field include:

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