“Beyond the scary headlines, you’ll often find remarkable realities!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
They’re everywhere! Little robots scurrying about, doing the jobs that humans don’t want to do!
Despite the widespread techno-skepticism which I identified in Trend #1 – Technoskpeticism and Retiming the Future, it’s pretty clear that many technologies are having their moment. Robotic is clearly one of the most relevant, which is why it’s trend #20 of my ’23 Trends for 2023‘ series.
The fact is, while the news media, Hollywood, and almost everyone have had a sensational view of the ‘big scary future‘ that the world of robotics takes us to, the reality is far different. Because behind the scary realities are some wonderful realities.
Ah, robots. Popularized in The Jetsons with the loveable Rosie the Robot.
…and what you are now seeing today with humanoid robots like Pepper:
… and the terrifyingly scary robots as seen from the big screen:
The interesting thing about robotic technology is that we have long been told to fear what is coming!
Some years back, after a keynote for NASA in which I spoke about the acceleration of robotic technology, I wrote a post that put these fears and scary headlines into perspective, by digging out stories for popular magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. Some things never change!
As I noted in the post “OMG!!! Man is Doomed by the Machine Age! Giant Robot Brains are Destroying Jobs”
We live in terrifying times! Terrifying headlines! We’re all going to lose our jobs! The juggernaut of automation has us all in its sights!
Everywhere we turn, there’s terror in the news. Is it real, is it fake? I don’t know, but it sure seems that 2017 is the year of the big job automation disruption!
What should we do? Let’s come up with some sort of plan to help all these displaced workers! A big dialog is necessary. Plans. Guaranteed income strategies. Things like that.
OMG! It’s pretty clear that mankind is doomed by the era of automation! Doomed by the machine age!
After all, machines are destroying jobs! There are photos! Pictures even!
And hey, maybe we shouldn’t worry — we can all just enjoy all the extra leisure time that we are going to have.
Look maybe everybody should calm down some.
The older images in this post are from Modern Mechanix and Popular Science, from the 1930’s.
The reality of robotic technology though is far different. They are being implemented in factories, industrial settings, pharmacies, warehouses, stores, and elsewhere, performing routine, mundane tasks that humans generally don’t want to do. Cleaning floors, doing package order fulfillment, loading, and unloading trucks, cooking food, filling prescription bottles, clearing sewers, and manufacturing and boxing products,
Job loss? Most studies show that as with any technology, they are actually creating new advanced jobs with advanced skills. Scary headlines? No, opportunities!
Is there momentum with the trend? Consider:
- in the retail sector installations of industrial robots grew 31% in 2021 around the world, and sales of service robots rose 37%
- 517,000 robotic units were installed globally in 2021, an increase of 31% above 2020
- global sales of robotic units topped 600,000 units in 2022
- worldwide, industrial robot sales will grow from US$16.8-billion in 2022 to US$35.7- billion by 2029.
- sales of all forms of robots will jump from US$ 25 billion in 2022 to between US$ 160 billion and US$ 260 billion annually by 2030
- China installed almost as many robots in its factories last year as the rest of the world combined
- shipments of industrial robots to China in 2021 rose 45% compared with the previous year
- total sales could hit $160 billion to $260 billion in 2030, up from $40 billion in 2023
Yup, that’s some growth!
And so what is really happening?
Everywhere you look, you can see these marvelous little machines.
Such as delivery robots such as those from Starship Technologies.
The Amazon Proteus robot, used in warehouses, can carry huge, heavy items of up to 800 pounds.
The Walgreens robot is used for drug dispensing.
Lawn-cutting robots on golf courses:
The ‘Annaboto’ for, well, recreational purposes!
Robots in hospitals such as “Moxi” and “Relay” carry around lab tests, medical supplies, and other items at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Even the Missy 2 French fries robot!
Job loss? Nah.
Despite concerns that robots ultimately eliminate jobs, there’s scant evidence that they do. Countries such as Japan and Korea with high levels of robots in their economies have some of the lowest unemployment rates. Automation generally enhances productivity, lifting societal wealth, and has “scale effects,” fueling growth in adjacent industries. New jobs emerge to install, program, operate, and fix the machines.
The Rise of the Robot Worker
26 December 2022, Barron’s
This is why, in 2023, robots are having their moment – and for you to understand the future, you need to go beyond the ‘big scary headlines!’
As you do with any trend involving the future because one thing I have learned – people like to try to get us to fear the future, and not see the opportunity it presents!