In their recent comments on “60 Minutes,” and at the Techonomy 2012 conference, MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfssonn may have given the impression that robots are poised to swipe the jobs of U.S. workers. As reported in The New York Times, robotics experts assembled at the Automate 2013 trade show in Chicago offered a different outlook. Henrik I. Christensen, Chair of Robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that while he agrees that automation could make certain types of jobs obsolete, it will also create new, higher-paying jobs. The International Federation of Robotics reinforced this argument with the release of findings from a report predicting the robotics industry will help create 1.9 million to 3.5 million jobs globally by 2020.
The alarm in this country about job-stealing robots has apparently not spread to Europe and Japan. A German robotics engineer argued that automation plays a central role in preserving jobs and helping economies support social programs. This kind of optimism may be gaining ground in the U.S., where a steel products manufacturer in Baltimore recently won a contract for a job formerly done in China, in part due to the efficiencies of U.S. made robotics. But in terms of the density of robots used in manufacturing, the U.S. still lags behind Germany, South Korea, and Japan—all countries with lower unemployment rates than ours.