Friday, November 25, 2022

Meet the Army of Robots Coming to Fill In for Scarce Workers

Robots are spreading at a record pace, from their traditional strongholds like making automobiles into nearly every other human endeavor

By Christopher Mims of The WSJ

Before the excerpts from this article, it is not necessarily the case that robots or automation will reduce the total number of jobs. According to Carlos Bonilla, an analyst at Econsult Solutions:

"Every few decades, predictions about the “end of work” have pervaded public discourse, and they’ve always been wrong. There was a spike of automation anxiety in the late 1920s and ‘30s, when machines were starting to take over jobs on farms and in factories. Automation anxiety surged again in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, when President Kennedy ranked automation as the major domestic challenge of the time."

See Will Automation Lead to Mass Unemployment?

Also, we know that in the long run of history, the share of workers in farming has declined dramatically yet we still have lots of jobs for people.

Right now, "farmers and ranchers themselves make up just 1.3% of the employed US population." See 9 mind-blowing facts about the US farming industry by Sara Lepley of Markets Insider.

What did it used to be? 

"In the first U.S. Census of 1790, the new nation’s population was about four million people, almost all of them living in the countryside or in small towns and villages, and 90 percent of them listing their occupation as farmers."

That is from chapter 11 of a book called American Environmental History by Dan Allosso.

Excerpts from the Mims article:

"A combination of hard-pressed employers, technological leaps and improved cost effectiveness has fueled a rapid expansion of the world’s robot army. A half-million industrial robots were installed globally last year"

"an all-time high exceeding the previous record, set in 2018, by 22%."

"The total population of industrial robots in the world has now also reached an all-time high, 3.5 million"

"There’s every reason to believe the accelerated embrace of robots will continue, given the aging workforces and other demographic shifts that are driving long-term worker shortages all over the world."

"Driving that adoption is the spread of robots from longtime uses like welding in automobile manufacturing into more challenging tasks. These include picking parts and operating other machines, tasks that require more dexterity, flexibility, and a dollop of artificial intelligence and machine vision."

"The “service” robot industry . . . is also growing at a rapid pace"

"These service robots include everything from autonomous cleaning robots scouring the floors of your local grocery store"

"to delivery robots and mobile robots taking over jobs like unloading trucks."

"there are more than 1,000 companies worldwide manufacturing them, 10 times the number making industrial robots. At least 121,000 service robots were installed in 2021"

"The convergence of three forces is driving the robot renaissance. The first is that demographic trends in rich countries mean there simply aren’t enough workers, says Craig Webster, a political scientist and associate professor at Ball State University who recently wrote a paper on the topic. His work is backed up by a comprehensive analysis published last June by economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University, which found that across countries, an aging workforce drives adoption of robotics—and the faster that workforce ages, the faster robots are adopted.

The second factor is that robots have become more capable, more quickly, than at any other point since their earliest adoption by the automotive industry in the middle of the 20th century."

"This new generation of robots have mobility and vision, and are capable of flexibility in their behavior that simply hasn’t been possible with the kinds of industrial robots that have been in use in manufacturing since the 1960s."

"The third factor is the sum of the prior two: surging human labor costs and more-capable robots mean the amount of time it takes a new robot to pay for itself is shrinking"

"In China, for example, a robot that can operate a machine tool in a factory can do the work of two or even three humans, and can pay for itself in less than two years."

"One unresolved issue in negotiations between terminal operators and the trade unions representing longshore workers on the West Coast is which terminals will be automated, and what will happen to the truck drivers and other port workers who will lose their current jobs as a result.

Similarly, labor shortages and management’s response to them in America’s railroad industry were at the heart of recent negotiations between unions and employers. Rail companies have proposed eliminating train conductors entirely, and fully automating their trains.

History shows that, while automation typically takes over some of the tasks performed by humans, over time companies shift workers into different types of jobs, especially in tight labor markets. But, as was the case with the 19th century weavers known as Luddites, more automation can lead to smaller workforces in the short term, as well as worse conditions for workers."

"Roboticists say realizing a roboconomy will require meeting the robots in the middle: Robot makers will continue to improve their products’ ability, while we also remake our world in ways that accommodate these robots."

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Are robots writing fake product reviews? (2022)

Answering the Call of Automation: How the Labor Market Adjusted to the Mechanization of Telephone Operation (2022)

Many Jobs Lost During the Coronavirus Pandemic Just Aren’t Coming Back (2021)

Can computers write poetry?Could they replace poets? (2020)

Will computer programs replace newspaper columnists?  (2020)

McDonald’s Tests Robot Fryers and Voice-Activated Drive-Throughs: Burger giant wants to speed service as competition for fast-food diners mounts (2019)

Is Walmart adding robots to replace workers or because it is hard to find workers? (2019)

Robot Journalists-A Case Of Structural Unemployment? (2010)

Structural Unemployment In The News-Computers Can Now Tell Jokes  (2013)

WHAT do you get when you cross a fragrance with an actor?

Answer: a smell Gibson.

Robot jockeys in camel races (2014)

Are Computer Programs Replacing Journalists? (2015)

Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs  (2016)

The Robots Are Coming And It Might Not Be A Case of Structural Unemployment  (2018)

Broncos to debut beer-pouring robot at upcoming game (2018)

Robots Are Ready to Shake (and Stir) Up Bars (2018)

Is Covid causing some structural unemployment? (2020)

Is Covid causing some structural unemployment? (Part 2)

Warehouses Look to Robots to Fill Labor Gaps, Speed Deliveries  (2021)

Is unemployment still high because of structural unemployment?    (2021)

The Pizza Delivery Guy Will Be a Robot at Many Campuses This Fall  (2021)

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