The COVID-19 pandemic is remembered in many ways, but I think one of the most important, apart from the tragic death toll, is the dramatic increase in robotic use.
It may mark the official beginning of the era of automation.
New data from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), based in Frankfurt, Germany, shows that the purchase of industrial robots in the United States reached a record high in 2020.
Despite the COVID-19 recession, sales of industrial robots in the United States increased by 7% last year, the federal government said.
This includes a 72% increase in robots for hospitals and pharmacies, a 62% increase in robots for companies that manufacture plastic and rubber products, and a 60% increase in robots for food and consumer companies. .. Even car companies have increased their robot purchases by 22 percent, the group says.
A separate survey from Gartner consulting firms Robot software sales are expected to grow by 20% this year, and are likely to continue double-digit growth until at least 2024, he said.
“A pandemic may point to a turning point in people’s attitudes towards robots,” IFR General Secretary Sae Yamamoto Biller told me in a telephone interview from Germany. “Before the pandemic, some of the general public considered robots to be competitors. Many now consider them to be helpers.”
When I wrote the book “Robots are Coming” in 2019, I said that the main reason robots are replacing humans at work is that robots are much cheaper and much smarter. Well, there are several other reasons.
First, the factories are paralyzed by pandemics around the world, and companies want to be ready for future pandemics.
Many manufacturers began using robots during pandemics to replace absent workers and reduce the risk of infection. Robots are not infected and do not have to sit 6 feet apart and work 24 hours a day. Nor do they unite or seek higher wages.
Second, the pandemic has raised awareness of vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, US and European countries faced a shortage of Chinese-made surgical masks and other medical products. Many US and European companies concluded that they were overly dependent on supply from China, and some decided to start production domestically in some or fully automated factories.
In particular, concerns that prolonged trade tensions between the United States and China could explode into a trade war and cause new trade disruptions could eliminate the fear of new disruptions in the global supply chain. Low.
In addition, there is growing concern in the international trading community about natural disasters and accidents such as the recent shipping crisis on the Suez Canal in Egypt.
The canal, which carries up to 15% of world trade, was closed for almost a week after a huge Evergiven freighter stalled, blocking the passage of more than 300 freighters.
Third, the COVID-19 pandemic forced multinationals to pause to rethink their long-term strategies, and many decided to shift some of their production to robots. Before the pandemic, industry analysts told me that many companies were busy and had never scrutinized automation.
The increasing use of automation accelerates the elimination of many of our jobs. Whether you’re a car worker or a supermarket cashier, if you’re doing repetitive and predictable work, it’s likely that at least part of the work will be automated.
That is why it is more important than ever for the country to focus on re-skilling millions of workers and dramatically improve their education levels. And as an individual, you must pursue lifelong education, whether you are updating your skills or reinventing yourself.
I’m not a pessimist — historically, technology has always created more work than it eliminated. However, the transition to an automated society is already difficult for American workers and can be even more cruel.
In the post-COVID-19 world, robots are ubiquitous and ready to survive and prosper among them.
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