There's reason to be concerned about China – at least, its robotic revolution.
We're facing an ever-evolving world that's spitting out innovative technological breakthroughs with the torrid pace of a tennis ball launcher on uppers. Pew: Self-driving cars. Pew: Agricultural drones. Pew: Wearable translators.
Each day, the innovations leap forward – and while it's exciting to be living during these revolutionary tech times, there's an important question we have to ask ourselves…
Are we ready for this?
It's something that comes to mind when I hear reports of Asia producing more robots than the rest of the world combined. China, in particular, is adding robots at an average pace of about 20% annually. To put that into perspective, about 650,000 new robots are expected to be installed there by 2020.
Each week, I read new examples of that statistic at play.
For one, Shentong Express, a Chinese shipping company, recently cut its labor costs in half by adding a fleet of tiny, orange, Roomba-esque robots.
And in February, the Changying Precision Technology (which produces mobile phones) made a similar jump into the shiny new world of automation. The factory was previously run by 650 employees – but now just 60 people are required to get the job done, and that's expected to drop to 20 in the future.
That's a whopping 90% drop in the human workforce thanks to robotics. And, yes, it's proving useful: Ever since the transition, production has jumped by 250% and defects have dropped by 80%.
Again, that's exciting and makes my internal sci-fi nerd psyched about the possibilities. But there's a film of fear that tempers that excitement.
What happens to those displaced? How will they earn a source of income – and how will this play through our economies?
Chinese workers are dealing with that concern – in fact, it's no surprise that they fear being replaced by machines more than any other group. About 80% of Chinese workers polled by the ADP Research Institute earlier this year believed that tech would replace jobs requiring repetitive work. That handily beat the 12 other countries where polling took place.
Clearly people are worried, and there's a valid reason.
Economists expect between 9% and 47% of workers in the West to lose jobs to automation over the next two decades. And as much as 40% of Fortune 500 companies could disappear within just one decade. Meanwhile, between 25% and 69% of jobs could disappear in China and India.
So again, the question comes back to: Are we ready for this?
I don't pretend to know the full scope of the changes headed our way, but I, for one, want to ensure I'm prepared for both sides of the equation – the good and the bad.
That's why I'm looking to benefit from companies focused on the Internet of Things, robotics and other innovations. We're experiencing a momentous period within history – and that's sure to bring momentous opportunities.
At the same time, I want to be equipped for any short-term economic backlashes that happen in the meantime as displaced workers try to refind their places in the world.
After all, isn't it prudent to be ready for whatever comes our way?