We Could Lose 20 Million Jobs To Robots If Policymakers Fail To Balance Progress

Robots were invented in order to help humans carry out tasks more efficiently, in greater accuracy, and faster, but a study reveals that the fingers can count the years before robots take over human employment.

A recent study published by the Oxford Economics entitled “How Robots Change The World: What Automation Really Means For Jobs And Productivity” reveals that by 2030, robots can take over more than 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world. In hindsight, millions could lose their jobs to automated machines in the next few years. In fact, 14 million jobs are at risk in the next 11 years in China alone.

“The robotics revolution is rapidly accelerating, as fastpaced technological advances in automation, engineering, energy storage, artificial intelligence, and machine learning converge. The result will transform the capabilities of robots and their ability to take over tasks once carried out by humans,” Oxford Economics CEO and Chief Economist, Adrian Cooper, wrote in the study.

The economic scientists behind the study analyzed the long-term uptake of the robotics revolution in the workplace, saying that the number of robots replacing humans in companies globally has increased three-fold in the last two decades to 2.25 million.

“The number of robots in use worldwide multiplied three-fold over the past two decades, to 2.25 million. Trends suggest the global stock of robots will multiply even faster in the next 20 years, reaching as many as 20 million by 2030,” Cooper added.

The report predicted that by 2030, more than 1.5 million jobs would have been lost to robots in the United States. In China, that number was expected to exceed 14 million, and across EU member states, almost 2 million people would lose out on employment due to automation.

Balancing out progress and human economics

Because of this growth, economists are raising concern on how robotics are slowly occupying the workplace and say that policymakers are into a profound challenge of balancing out progress and human economics.

While researchers are acknowledging the benefits from robotics in terms of “boost[ing] productivity and economic growth” and creation of jobs in new and yet-to-exist industries, they have also raised certain drawbacks.

Researchers concluded that “1% increase in the stock of robots per worker in the manufacturing sector leads to 0.1% boost to output per worker,” which “are large enough to drive meaningful growth.” They also said that boosting robotics in a business can “benefit both short- and medium-term growth.”

“But existing business models across many sectors will be seriously disrupted. And tens of millions of existing jobs will be lost, with human workers displaced by robots at an increasing rate as robots become steadily more sophisticated,” reads the report.

Robots have a disproportionate impact based on income level

The potential of underemployment is the least of the problems that the rise of automation and robotics in the workplace poses. According to the economic researchers, the underemployment is more likely not to be evenly distributed around the world with low-income countries suffering the most.

“Our research shows that the negative effects of robotization are disproportionately felt in the lower-income regions of the globe’s major economies—on average, a new robot displaces nearly twice as many jobs in lower-income regions compared with higher-income regions of the same country,” the research reads.

Successful economic performance at the regional level in advanced economies is usually inversely correlated
with robot vulnerability, the researchers suggested. This implies that “the regional inequalities that exist within countries, such as England’s north-south divide, could be exacerbated by the rise of the robots.”

Socio-economic and political implications of the findings

And this finding, according to the economist, has broad socio-economic and political implications. For one, the policymakers and governments of vulnerable economies should be immediately warned regarding the risk of too much robotization in the workplace so they can find ways to mitigate its projected effect.

“These findings should not lead policy-makers and other stakeholders to seek to frustrate the adoption of robot technology. Instead, the challenge should be to distribute the robotics dividend more evenly by helping vulnerable workers prepare for and adapt to the upheaval it will bring,” the researchers said.

“Explore all policy options, from infrastructure investments to training initiatives and innovative welfare programs such as universal basic income,” the report suggested.

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