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The Robots Are Coming!

The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation

By Andrés Oppenheimer
18-minute read
Audio available
The Robots Are Coming!: The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation by Andrés Oppenheimer

The Robots Are Coming! (2019) provides a wide-ranging survey of the rapidly approaching – and, in many cases, already emerging – future of automation. In the coming decades, sophisticated robots, computer programs and other forms of automated technology will eliminate many jobs in many fields, and will radically transform the jobs that remain. Andrés Oppenheimer takes us on an insightful and eye-opening tour of some of the key industries to be affected and the major transformations that lie ahead.

  • Skeptics who wonder if the robots really are coming
  • Pessimists who fear the future they will bring
  • Optimists who hope they will unlock new possibilities for humanity

Andrés Oppenheimer is an award-winning journalist, the Latin American editor and syndicated foreign affairs columnist for the Miami Herald, the anchor of Oppenheimer Presenta on CNN en Español and the author of seven books. In 1987, he was one of the co-winners of the Pulitzer Prize for his work as part of a team of Miami Herald journalists who uncovered the Iran-Contra Scandal. He also won the Inter-American Press Association Award in 1989 and 1994, as well as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists prize in 1997.

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The Robots Are Coming!

The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation

By Andrés Oppenheimer
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Robots Are Coming!: The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation by Andrés Oppenheimer
Synopsis

The Robots Are Coming! (2019) provides a wide-ranging survey of the rapidly approaching – and, in many cases, already emerging – future of automation. In the coming decades, sophisticated robots, computer programs and other forms of automated technology will eliminate many jobs in many fields, and will radically transform the jobs that remain. Andrés Oppenheimer takes us on an insightful and eye-opening tour of some of the key industries to be affected and the major transformations that lie ahead.

Key idea 1 of 11

After decades of hype, industrial robots are poised to replace human factory workers.

In the 1960s, we saw the rise of industrial robots – automated factory machines that manufacture products without human assistance. But six decades later, the robots haven’t taken over yet. There are still millions of people working in factories.

Sure, many of those factories are now in Eastern countries like China, rather than Western countries like the United States. But they’re still around, chugging away – and still powered by human sweat. So it would be reasonable to think that maybe the fears about robots taking over were overblown.

Well, think again. Even in the East, industrial robots are on the rise, and factory jobs are starting to disappear. In China alone, there were 189,000 industrial robots in 2014. That number is projected to reach 726,000 in 2019. Indeed, far from being the last bastion of manual factory work, China is now pioneering fully automated factories. In 2017, a cellphone factory in the industrial city of Dongguan replaced 590 of its 650 workers with robots. It then announced its ambition to further reduce its staff to 20 and eventually to zero.

The Chinese media hailed the factory as a success story, illustrating the progress of the country’s Made in China 2025 economic plan. One of the aims of that plan is to achieve a “robotic revolution,” in the words of President Xi Jinping.

Four factors are helping to fuel that revolution. First, industrial robots are becoming cheaper. Second, Chinese labor is getting more expensive. Third, modern industrial robots’ productivity leaves humans in the dust: the robots can work at higher speeds and with greater precision, 365 days per year, 24 hours per day.

The fourth and final factor combines the previous ones with the fact that Chinese factories often make products for Western corporations. Given the lower cost of industrial robots, the higher cost of Chinese labor and the tremendous productivity benefits of automation, those same corporations are now tempted to build their own factories at home in the West. That way, they can eliminate their international shipping costs.

Put those four factors together, and Chinese factories have a strong economic motivation to automate their operations. That way, they can lower their prices and keep their corporate clients happy.

But numerous factory jobs will probably be lost as a result. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that 77 percent of jobs in China are threatened by automation, many of them in manufacturing.

And that’s just the tip of the automatic iceberg.

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