Report Claims that Robots Create Jobs

At this site a central question of: “Is technology destroying jobs faster than it creates them,” motivates a fair amount of the discussion. Here’s a political article that links to a report that comes to the negative conclusion, at least considering robotics and manufacturing. I’d like to hear some push-back on this, if any can be made, from the data side (I’m not really interested in the politics either way). What do you think? Are they missing something important?

3 thoughts on “Report Claims that Robots Create Jobs

  1. This isn’t pushback from the data side; I just have a few questions. Is it your experience that dentists keep longer hours when there are night shifts added, or for any other reason? Do police and fire departments really add employees when there’s a third shift? Spinoff jobs add up to 7.85 jobs per additional shiftworker? Why is that Bloomberg figure so much higher than the International Federation of Robotics study? With regard to the latter, do you uncritically trust studies by industry groups? What kind of wages to the created jobs pay, compared to those lost? Who pays for the professors of robotics? In short, this may be a perfectly good analysis, and I hope it is. But I think one would have to look at the references cited, and perhaps some that aren’t, before accepting the conclusions.

  2. These are excellent questions, Gerry. The IFR study seems to have surveyed a wider range of industries than just automotive, which I think accounts for that difference. I get that not every industry adds a night shift when a plant does, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have fewer empty appointment hours due to factory workers and others now having health coverage (for example). Whether that spillover is enough to make up for the jobs lost directly to labor automation is highly questionable. And even if this growth is the case for the time period studied, the question remains whether that growth is sustainable: robotics professors, service workers, and others who supposedly benefit from spillover job creation are soon going to face the pressure of automation themselves.

  3. (Reposting my critique of the article from Google+)

    “At the site where the robot is deployed, even though some jobs are replaced by robots, many jobs are preserved from moving to lower cost labor factories offshore.”

    These are not created jobs. They are “preserved” jobs that are simply not moving to other countries. If we look at this from the perspective of the world at large nothing has actually been gained here.

    “There is much evidence proving that with more robots, fewer jobs are lost. That’s why Germany, with it’s hourly rates almost 50% greater than in the US, has remained competitive: they have twice as many robots per employee as do the Americans.”

    This could just as easily be explained with the idea that Germany is using robotics to outcompete the rest of the world and hang onto good scarce job opportunities for longer. This could be the case even if the overal demand for human labor was shrinking worldwide.

    “There are also ancillary jobs created at educational institutions that teach robotics, at robot component suppliers, and at engineering and consulting companies that provide integration services and equipment.”

    The best robot ultimately will be a single universal robot that can be reprogrammed using software to do any task. We will converge toward this ideal, and given past trends likely just have two major universal robot providers, who will make their products in largely automated factories. My point being there will always be jobs for robot programmers and whatnot, but this won’t necessarily be a growth industry on a scale that can replace the myriad jobs we are likely to lose.