Robotics & Job Loss: Wait, Not So Fast

Robotics & Job Loss: Wait, Not So Fast

This morning, I woke up to find an important new piece of research on the effects of robotics on unemployment. It’s from RobotEnomics, and what it shows is that firms that make heavy use of robotics are significant sources of job growth rather than job loss. 

Between the end of 2009 and the end of 2014, sixty-two corporations with collectively the largest (and growing) installed base of robots added an additional 1.25 million new jobs to their payroll – an overall increase of more than 20% people employed.

Our research indicates, despite the headlines, companies that have installed industrial robots are actually increasingly employing more people whilst at the same time adding more robots. Additionally econometric evidence suggests an important role for robots AND people in accounting for productivity growth.

For the details, check out the article:

Study – Robots are not taking jobs

I happen to believe in a growing inescapability of technological unemployment for a significant portion – but not all – of the workforce. I also have a few questions about these findings. For example, some of the job growth found in this research could be explained by:

a) the fact that the firms studied are leading adopters of robotics, which might also happen to correlate with being cutting edge and in growth mode. In other words, selection bias.

b) the job growth in these manufacturing jobs be a result of the recent on-shoring (or “reshoring”) revolution? (see: In other words, is this job growth a one-time effect as offshored jobs overseas are cut and added here in the U.S. to aid in the automation process? Some say that offshoring of labor is a stepping stone to its automation. From talking with Colin Lewis at RobotEnomics, some of the growth in his study might be attributable to that, but it’s very difficult to get that data from corporations.  

So yes, I have some questions and I tend to be someone who believes in the likelihood that machines will increasingly learn the new jobs faster than we will. But I am also someone who would prefer to know the truth than to simply reinforce my existing assumptions about the way things work.

This work is really commendable and it’s important research. Anyone who believes in the inevitability of technological unemployment should really read this work and keep an open mind. It’s a very in-depth study with survey of more than 90 senior executives, managers and engineers within companies that have a large installed base of robots, along with an analysis of some 1,500 legal compliance documents. 

If care about this stuff, and you don’t know RobotEnomics (website:, you’re missing out. I highly recommend the work that Colin is doing. 

#automation   #manufacturing   #robotics   #technologicalunemployment  

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