According to a new report from the Asia Development Bank (ADB), new technologies like robots, automation, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are creating more jobs in Asia than they destroy.
Figure 1: The adoption of robotics and other connected systems stimulated higher productivity and economic growth, creating 134 million new jobs, compared with the 101 million lost to new technologies.
Using productivity as a broad measure of technological advance, ADB’s input/output analysis of 12 economies in Asia found that, had output remained the same. Technology-driven increased productivity would have brought a 66 percent decrease in employment, equal to 101 million jobs per annum.
However, alongside higher demand for goods and services related to increased output and technology changes more than offset this, with an associated 88 percent increase in employment, equal to 134 million jobs per annum.
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Robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things also create new companies, industries, and jobs, adds the bank. In addition, the greater complexity of modern production and growing demand for new personal services in healthcare, education, finance, and others areas, are countervailing forces against technology-related unemployment, as they create new jobs.
New types of jobs have emerged to handle new technologies. A detailed analysis of occupation titles in India, Malaysia, and the Philippines found that 43–57 percent of new job titles that have emerged in the past 10 years are in ICT. The report explained it.
The countries with the highest density of robot workers
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), South Korea boasts 631 robots per 10,000 employees, which is eight times the global average. Singapore, Germany, and Japan follow South Korea in the world automation league, says the IFR, with robot densities of 488, 309, and 303, respectively. The US has 189 robots per 10,000 employees, placing it seventh.
Figure 2: Robot density – the number of multipurpose industrial robots per 10,000 persons employed in manufacturing, the global average of robot density is 74.
Robots and jobs
By analysis of five economies in developing Asia showing that “Jobs requiring routine and manual tasks will be less in demand, over the past decade, an annual expansion of employment in jobs intensive in non-routine cognitive tasks, social interactions, and the use of ICT, was 2.6 percentage points faster than total employment. Average real wages for these non-routine jobs increased faster than for routine and manual jobs.”
However, the bank acknowledges that technological advances threaten jobs as well as fuel productivity and demand. “Emerging technologies such as robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, will help drive future prosperity, yet they also pose challenges for workers,” said the ADB.
“The apparel and footwear industries, for example, are experimenting with completely automated production. Similarly, it is becoming technically feasible to automate more complex service tasks, such as customer support,” said the report.
Benefits for workers
The bank said, “There are reasons for optimism, despite the threat to many lower-skilled or routine jobs. Technologies often automate only some tasks, not the whole job.”
“Automation targets mainly routine tasks, such as soldering components onto a circuit board repeatedly on an assembly line, which is both routine and manual or counting and dispensing cash in a bank, which is routine and cognitive,” the ADB mentioned.
Job automation goes ahead only where it is both technically and economically feasible. Data on industrial robots in Asia shows that the two largest users are the electrical/electronics industry and automobile manufacturers, each accounting in 2015 for 39 percent of total robot use but, together, only 13.4 percent of total manufacturing employment.
By contrast, producers of textiles, apparel, leather goods, and food and beverages together accounted in the same year for only 1.4 percent of robot usage, but 31.4 percent of manufacturing employment.
Need more skills
In 12 economies in developing Asia that account for 90 percent of employment in the region, an estimated 40 percent of manufacturing and service jobs entail mostly routine tasks, either manual or cognitive. However, many of these jobs are unlikely to be lost. Some will be restructured instead, and automating others will not be technically or economically feasible.
However, “Automation will hurt workers in routine and manuals jobs,” admitted the ADB.
New jobs will appear, but they may require skills that such workers do not possess. Further, as firms and industries adjust to new ways of producing and distributing goods and services, the resulting disruptions along existing supply chains may cause unemployment.