Friday, March 31, 2017

Robots have taken up to 670000 jobs

New research by economists Acemoglu and Restrepo gives specifics about the substitution of capital, in the form of robotics, for labor.  From the Washington Post:

Industrial robots alone have eliminated up to 670,000 American jobs between 1990 and 2007, according to new research from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo.
The number is stunning on the face of it, and many have interpreted the study as an indictment of technological change — a sign that “robots are winning the race for American jobs.” But the bigger takeaway is that the nation has been ill-equipped to deal with the upheaval caused by automation.
The researchers estimate that half of the job losses resulted from robots directly replacing workers. The rest of the jobs disappeared from elsewhere in the local community. It seems that after a factory sheds workers, that economic pain reverberates, triggering further unemployment at, say, the grocery store or the neighborhood car dealership.

In a way, this is surprising. Economists understand that automation has costs, but they have largely emphasized the benefits: Machines makes things cheaper, and they free up workers to do other jobs. For instance, 41 percent of Americans were farmers a century ago, but thanks to tractors and mechanical harvesters, only 2 percent work in the agriculture today. The rest of us now can now aspire to be programmers or anesthesiologists or DJs or drone pilots.

The latest study reveals that for manufacturing workers, the process of adjusting to technological change has been much slower and more painful than most experts thought. “We were looking at a span of 20 years, so in that timeframe, you would expect that manufacturing workers would be able to find other employment,” Restrepo said. Instead, not only did the factory jobs vanish, but other local jobs disappeared too. Acemoglu and Restrepo say that every industrial robot eliminated about three manufacturing positions, plus three more jobs from around town.

Now the robots are coming for my job and eventually for yours.  Is it an inevitable change?


  1. This is definitely an inevitable change. History shows that we build machines to make certain activities more efficient/convenient. But I don't think this is a race between people and robots. Instead, it is a lack of job diversification. The people who keep complaining about losing manufacturing jobs should move on, and realize that there is growth in other job markets.

  2. I believe its an inevitable change for sure. The overall purpose of building super computers and machines is to reduce the amount of time/labor it takes to accomplish a task. This reminds me about Watson, the super computer that beat one of the best players to play jeopardy. According to IBM, Watson was able to store up to 1000 books worth of data within its hard drive. With that being said, Watson had flaws that are common among robots that are taking over these jobs. I think that we shouldn't rely on robots to accomplish tasks that humans can do more efficiently. I believe that if a robot, such as Watson, can accomplish a job more efficiently than a human, then I think that the robot should take over that task.

  3. I agree with Branden and Kriti, change is inevitable. However, the difficulty with the shifting structure of the job market is the types of jobs that are now available for these same workers who are being displaced by robots. A manufacturing job may have allowed them to support a family of four, but a retail or food service job may not. This could mean even more individuals and families will be left leaning on the security net and tax payers of the U.S.

  4. I see parallels with this and renewable energy. Like Kriti said, there needs to be an acknowledgment that certain jobs are outdated and other job areas are growing. This is what the Trump administration failed to do by promising to bring back coal jobs. The jobs are simply not there with the global shift of focus being on renewable energy nowadays.

  5. I agree with Kriti, I think this change was inevitable. But I actually recall doing a small project on this last year & what we found was that there were new jobs created in other areas besides manufacturing that almost cancelled out the elimination of jobs in manufacturing. Many of these robots created jobs for people with specific degrees & training specialization in manufacturing as well which gave many employees the opportunity to obtain new training/higher education in order to advance to these new positions. Not sure if I'm recalling that 100% accurate so don't grill me! Lol

  6. I agree with what everyone else has said. Technological change is inevitable, and with that comes the obsolescence of certain jobs and professions. This is usually accompanied by the creation of jobs in different sectors, so theoretically it all balances out. However, it requires that those who lose their jobs have adequate skills or the necessary training to take up jobs in another field. I think that one of the most important facets of managing this technological change would be to take measures to make the transition as smooth as possible for those in the labour market who will be affected.