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Robots Appear To Raise Productivity Without Causing Total Work Hours To Decline

Jul 15

Hallie Siegel writes: We often read about the economic impact of robots on employment, usually accompanied with the assertion that “robots steal jobs”. But to date there has precious little economic analysis of the actual effects that robots are already having on employment and productivity. Georg Graetz (Professor of Economics at Uppsala University) and Guy Michaels (Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics) undertook a study (abstract) of how robots impacted productivity and employment between 1993 and 2007, and found that “industrial robots increase labor productivity, total factor productivity and wages.” And while there is some evidence that they reduced the employment of low skilled workers, and, to a lesser extent, middle skilled workers, industrial robots had no significant effect on total hours worked.

This is important because it seems to contradict many of the pessimistic assertions that are presently being made about the impact of robots on jobs. What I am especially curious about is post-2007 data, however, because it’s just in the past few years that we have seen a major shift in industrial robotics to incorporate collaborative robots, or co-robots. (Robots specifically designed to work alongside humans, as tools for augmenting human performance.) One might reasonably suspect that some of the negative impact of industrial robotics on low and middle skilled workers pre 2007 could be offset by the more recent and increasing use of co-bots, which are not designed to replace humans, but instead to make them more efficient.


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