Automation is the use of machines, control systems and information technologies to optimize productivity in the production of goods and delivery of services. Automation plays an increasingly important role in the world economy and has been responsible for the shift in the world economy from industrial jobs to service jobs in the 20th and 21st centuries.
It is obvious that automation has many benefits, such as increase in productivity, quality and consistency of output. One more advantage is reduced direct human costs and expenses. But increasing automation leads to an increase in unemployment because human labour is replaced by machinery.
There is a book regarding this topic from 1995 written by American economist Jeremy Rifkin: “The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era”. He predicted devastating impact of automation on blue-collar, retail, wholesale employees and the growth of third sector.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), global sales of robotics increased by 38.0% in 2011. China, Germany and the USA are the major drivers of this growth, though the biggest users of robotics are Japan and South Korea. The increased use of robotics in these markets has helped to contribute to a sharp rise in labour productivity in some of them. China saw its labour productivity more than double between 2007 and 2012.
Labour productivity in selected countries: 2007 – 2012
Source: Euromonitor International from International Labour Organisation (ILO)/Eurostat/national statistics
Automation can save money on wages paid to staff, and also on labour taxes paid to the government. This can increase profits and competitiveness and it can be used to fill labour shortages: China is rapidly increasing its use of automation to counteract the predicted decline in its labour force due to the effects of its one child policy. It can also improve countries’ competitiveness by boosting labour productivity. On the other hand, the growing use of robotics and automation can contribute to long term structural unemployment, which means unemployment that can often be long term as it is part of a fundamental shift in the skills needed by an economy. This can weaken consumer spending and consumer confidence levels.
The use of automation and robotics is forecast by the IFR to increase in all regions by 2015. Asia/ Australasia is set to see the biggest increase and this will primarily be driven by an increase in China.
Estimated Operational Stock of Multipurpose Industrial Robots by Region: 2010, 2012, 2015
Source: The International Federation of Robotics
The forecast increased use of automation could contribute to an increase in unemployment rates globally, as the working age population aged 15-64 is set to grow from 4.6 billion in 2012 to 5.0 billion by 2020. Many of the increased numbers of the economically active global population may be competing for a reduced number of available employment opportunities as a result of automation.
/By Andrea Blažević, Antea Božić, Kristina Piene and Agita Sarkane/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automation accessed on 26.04.2013
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_Work accessed on 26.04.2013