On Wednesday, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo released an article titled, “How to Make America’s Robots Great Again” which discusses how to revitalize America’s manufacturing sector through the increased use of robots. It is true that robots have replaced workers in many manufacturing jobs, but embracing automation has the potential to be beneficial to workers and the economy.
While automation has caused some displacement, many manufacturers are still hiring. However, these jobs require new and different skills, and many workers are not currently trained to interact with machines in the way that augments their skills and maximizes automation’s potential. According to a Deloitte study, roughly 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled because of this skills gap. One of the reasons for this, according to companies, is that education and training systems have not kept up with the evolving needs of industry.
Even though Germany and Japan are the world’s leaders in building robots, an increasing number of the world’s robots are made in China. As Farhad Manjoo states, “Today, we buy a lot of stuff made in China by Chinese people. Tomorrow, we’ll buy stuff made in America — by Chinese robots.” The United States currently does not invest enough in manufacturing the robots that the key to a productive future. Meanwhile, the Chinese Government pours hundreds of billions of dollars into this technology.
There are some solutions to these problems. First, the government needs to place a greater focus on STEM education. We need to increase the number of skilled software engineers and researchers in artificial intelligence who will enable us to maintain our lead in these fields. Second, there need to be better training and retraining programs to fill the needed open positions. As some workers are displaced, many more jobs will be created. In these new jobs, people are going to need to interact with the machines that they work alongside at higher cognitive levels. They need to be continually educated for these evolving tasks.
Additionally, the United States could learn from China’s embrace of automation and robotics. The government needs to invest in these technologies, and not shy away from them due to fear. As Manjoo states, we have the ability to be successful here since the United States has the advantage of having some of the leaders in robotics working at American universities and a thriving start up culture.
The United States has the tools it needs to succeed, but it needs government policy and investment to help facilitate the process and foster growth.