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Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Will Redefine Jobs Rather Than Eliminate Them

A recent McKinsey report shows that very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium-term. Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined, much like the bank teller’s job was redefined with the advent of ATMs.

As many as 45% of activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated by adapting current technologies, the study showed. In the U.S., these activities represent about $2 trillion in annual wages, including even the highest-paid occupations, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs.

If the technologies that process and “understand” natural language were to reach the median level of human performance, an additional 13% of work activities in the U.S. economy could be automated, McKinsey reported.

“Robotics can reduce the cost of arc welding a small part from 84 cents to 40 cents.”

A recent Barclay’s study predicted that robotics could add millions to the British economy within the next decade. No doubt, it could do the same in the U.S. However, manufacturing has to pick up in the U.S. before robotics can grow.

Until then, Rethink Robotics, one of the leaders in the robotics space with 100 U.S. manufacturing clients, is looking toward China for short-term growth. Rethink announced a distribution partnership with a division of multinational company Shanghai Electric, saying it would help the company reach new customers there. In October, the company announced its expansion into Latin America with distribution partners in Mexico. The company is also expanding into Japan and Europe.

Where robotics can make a big dent in the U.S. is in welding, some say. One recent study noted that the cost to manually arc weld a small part in the U.S. is about 84 cents, including labor and material. The same part in China costs only 40 cents. So, with such a huge discrepancy, how can U.S. manufacturers compete? Robots have been a big part of the answer, according to a recent article in Industry Week.

For example, Cleveland-based Lincoln Electric Automation has been developing customized welding robots for U.S. manufacturers over years. Lincoln’s clients are now using the firm’s robots to improve quality and productivity, while helping to preserve the business by keeping it in the U.S.


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