Daily Ticker

Robots on the Rise: Is Your Job at Risk?

Daily Ticker

Robots are coming for your jobs!

What might have been the tagline from an old science fiction novel is now a reality that many American laborers are facing.

Nearly all factories in the United States are at least partially automated, cars can drive themselves, and computer programs can write articles. Robots can pick crops, sort through data, flip burgers and much more. The U.S. hasn't seen a change of this scale in the labor market since the Industrial Revolution.

In a recent feature on the proliferation of robots in the workplace, Wired Magazine writer Kevin Kelly claims that, “two hundred years ago, 70% of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has replaced all but 1% of their jobs...It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70% of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation.”

Two hundred years ago farmers moved into cities and began work in factories, but where will laborers replaced by automation go next?

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“Automation in the manufacturing industry is a net job destroyer,” Professor Andrew McAfee of MIT tells The Daily Ticker. McAfee makes sure to point out that this isn’t just an off shoring problem, “Germany has lost manufacturing jobs, Japan has lost manufacturing jobs, and the year of peak manufacturing in China was 1996,” he explains.

Some argue that automation is good for America-- the low cost of machines in factories have allowed many companies to bring production back to the United States. Rodney Brooks, an MIT Professor and the creator of Rethink Robotics, believes that robots can save American jobs which would otherwise go abroad.

“Rethink's robots are part of the solution to keeping simple manufacturing processes in-house. Similarly to how the personal computer has revolutionized the office worker's job, our robots are revolutionizing the line operator's job by enabling them to train and supervise robots instead of performing simple, repetitive tasks that are frequently outsourced to low-cost regions,” Brook's website reads.

Related: U.S. Still Suffering Depression Conditions: Paul Krugman

For the most part, McAfee agrees with this assumption, “I think Rodney’s absolutely right that what his products are going to do is allow manufacturers to remain in the United States, they're going to preserve some manufacturing jobs or bring some back to this country,” he says, “My concern is that this is going to bring some bigger problems to the U.S. labor force. We’d better start grappling with that and we’d better walk away from this assumption that because technology has created jobs in the past it is always going to be a net job creator.”

What’s good for the U.S. economy might not be so good for the laborers living in the country.

McAfee points out that because of automation we are creating more product than ever and are able to sell higher quantities for cheaper prices. Paul Krugman discusses this in a recent New York Times article, “Smart machines may make higher GDP possible, but also reduce the demand for people — including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots,” he writes.

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