Recently there has been a lot of press stories about robots, the economy
and its relation to employment. The stories are mixed. Some claim that
we will loose jobs to robots others are saying that through use of
robots manufacturing in the US will grow. In reality both of those
viewpoints are valid and understandable. Unfortunately most of the
stories are presented as one or the other. A more two-sides presentation
Over the last few years we have seen an increase in use of robot
systems. Robots have been used for dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. This
includes welding, sorting in warehouses, electronics assembly. It is
clear that introduction of robots to perform a job that a human was
doing before might displace a person. There are three kinds of uses: 1.
introduction of robots to perform tasks that cannot be performed by
humans, 2. introduction of systems to assist people, and 3. introduction
of systems to do work formerly performed by humans. The motivation for
displacement of labor is typically higher performance, which can be
lower price, higher quality or improved performance.
Throughout history there has been a worry about new technology. About
130 years ago people were worried with the introduction of steam engines
and assembly lines. What would happen to the labor force? Eventually we
had the automotive industry that could generate affordable cars for
everyone and a significant number of new jobs. Around 1980 secretaries
were worried about their jobs as typing pools disappeared due to the
introduction of personal computers. Today most people handle their own
email, … but there are nonetheless more administrative assistants
doing travel, scheduling, meeting minutes. The jobs have become
increasing skilled. So one of the challenges we are experiencing is that
some unskilled jobs gradually are getting automated and the displacement
in jobs is from unskilled to skilled labor. It will be important for the
work force to continue to receive training.
As an example through use of robots it is possible to reduce the price
of manufacturing, which in turn enables in-sourcing. Apple has
announced a new plant in the US and so has Lenovo. Tesla manufactures
green cars in California. Welding is performed by robots just as it has
been done for 30 years in Detroit. Some of the jobs carried out in
foreign countries can only be insourced through use of automation.
However, every job in manufacturing creates another 1.3 associated jobs
in services, supply chain, etc. The economy is growing and slowly we are
recovering jobs. The current trend is that jobs that were outsourced
earlier are returning to America, some of them through use of automation
and some new ones for manufacturing and some in associated industries.