Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Technological Unemployment Update

Robots are taking over factories around the world.

The International Federation of Robots tracks the growth in usage, production, and trade in robots, and the numbers have grown at a tantalizing rate. Robot sales jumped by 38 percent in 2011, and the worldwide stock of robots is estimated to be in the range of 1,153,000 - 1,400,000 units — up from a minimum stock of 1,021,000 units in 2009.

South Korea lead the way in robot density in 2011, with 347 robots per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industry. What's more impressive is the tremendous spike in robot density; South Korea had 287 robots per 10,000 workers in 2010.
Here are the countries where robots are taking over manufacturing:

These Are The Countries Where Robots Are Taking Over (Business Insider)

See also - China Is Buying Robots Like There's No Tomorrow

And related: U.S. Labor Force Participation Rate (The Big Picture)

As I've noted before, it's down to what it was in 1981. Extrapolate that curve - it looks a lot like Hubbert's Peak, doesn't it? This is what to watch, not the fudged unemployment numbers. Barry Ritholtz comments:
That last item [robotics] doesn’t get discussed nearly as much as it should, but the single biggest future trend in the labor force is going to be the ongoing replacement of humans by smart machines.

Whether you are a discretionary trader, a reporter, assemble iPhones, do construction of buildings, engage in general manufacturer, drive a car, do surgery, or are simply in the world’s oldest profession (aka a sex worker), there is some combination of software + robot that will eventually start doing your job.

I cannot tell you how far in the future this becomes problematic — but its not centuries. The question is whether its decades or years . . .


  1. No one wants to talk about robotics because it would prove that the luddite fallacy is not a fallacy at all. It was just temporarily masked by a growing economy.

  2. True. At least there's some talk finally starting to happen, but I despair of any action.

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