If there was one consistent message running through the recent Automate 2013 trade show in Chicago this week, it’s that robots are, contrary to public fears, not really going to steal U.S. jobs.
These fears—which MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson wrote about in 2011’s “Race Against the Machine”—are fueled by the fact that automation is constantly increasing as robots forge ahead into new territory (white collar jobs, etc.). Msany believe U.S. jobs are at stake.
But at the show, Henrik Christensen, Kuka Chair of Robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was quite critical of this view.
From the New York Times:
“We see today that the U.S. is still the biggest manufacturing country in terms of dollar value,” Dr. Christensen said. “It’s also important to remember that manufacturing produces more jobs in associated areas than anything else.”
Indeed, the International Federation of Robotics summarized a report that is expected to be out this February, pointing out that even as robotics takes over some jobs, it opens up new opportunities for humans.
Both directly and indirectly, robotics stands to generate between 1.9 and 3.5 million jobs worldwide by 2020.
Matt Tyler, CEO of Vickers Engineering, supports this view:
“Automation has allowed us to compete on a global basis. It has absolutely created jobs in southwest Michigan. Had it not been for automation, we would not have beat our Japanese competitor; we would not have beat our Chinese competitor; we would not have beat our Mexican competitor. It’s a fact.”
Per the summary report, the U.S. presently trails Germany, South Korea, and Japan in industrial robot density. China and Brazil are making notable advances, though they, too, lag behind the more advanced manufacturing nations.
As the American industry regains steam and begins to pick up, it is now producing about $25 billion per year in automation revenue. Around 1.5 million robots are projected to be manufactured per year by 2015.