Are Robotics Improving or Replacing the Workforce?

From the Roomba that cleans your floors to the Moley robotic chef and the wardrobe-organising, FoldiMate — it looks like robotics are going to become more and more commonplace in our day to day lives.

Advances in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence are producing new opportunities for businesses to improve the quality and speed of their output, with predictions of global productivity growing from 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually, by 2065.

Robotics and Automation can increase output and increase the value of skilled work that only human workers can do

Robotics and Automation can increase output and increase the value of skilled work that only human workers can do

Could Robots Take our Jobs?

Around fifty percent of work in the global economy — accounting for $15 trillion in wages and 1.1 billion workers — could be automated by adapting current technology, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report that analysed over 2000 work activities across eight hundred occupations. The types of activities that are most easily automated “involve physical activities in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as the collection and processing of data.” — the types of activities most common to manufacturing, food and leisure industries, retail and trade. Indeed, we are seeing the potential for robots in indoor environments, with them taking on a variety of roles, such as security, hospitality, bartending and waiting, to name but a few.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that robots are taking jobs. Whilst robots and artificial intelligence will be taking a majority of driving jobs, such as taxis and freight shipping, according to last December’s White House Report; it is believed that “robotisation” will create many more jobs around the world. In fact, robotisation is set to create two million new jobs in Spain alone.

What Effect will Robotics have on the Job Market?

In a 2016 working paper for the US National Bureau of Economic Research, MIT economists describe two effects of automation on the job market: the technology increases productivity by completing the simpler, more easily automated tasks. This then results in a higher demand for workers to complete the more complex tasks that only a human could complete.

David Autor, of MIT, agrees that job creation will trend ahead of job destruction as he says in his 2015 paper  “machines both substitute for and complement” workers. Automation “raises output in ways that lead to higher demand” for human employees, “raising the value of the tasks that workers uniquely supply.”

In the last thirty years, 30 percent of manufacturing jobs (5.5bn) in the United States have vanished and yet, during that same period, manufacturing output has grown by 148% whilst unemployment has remained largely unchanged.

Whilst many industries (and homes) take daring strides towards the incorporation of robots, we imagine a more technologically advanced world and draw parallels to science fiction. Yet, we must all the time consider the economic impacts of higher productivity and greater job creation that robotisation could bring us.

If you’re interested in how robotics and automation could impact your organisation or workforce, contact our Smart Industry team.

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