In this age of technology, computers have been accepted as a powerful tool for maximizing productivity in offices and other workplaces around the world. While computers have become the emblem of the Information Age and the increased role technology has had in labor productivity, robots have largely remained only an object of science fiction fascination in the eyes of many, still just a fantastic, far-away threat to human safety. However, robots are already playing a major role in global productivity and are influential in shaping many economies around the world.
Industrial robots (which are defined as machines that can be programmed to perform physical, production-related tasks without human input) have seen their prices reduced by almost 80% from the period of 1993 to 2007. In countries such as Denmark, Germany, and Italy (which have many producers of transportation equipment, chemicals, and metals) the ratio of robots to hours worked has increased by almost 150%. By matching current data on tasks performed by robots with those of U.S. workers in 1980 (before robots were in use), a conservative estimate of 0.37 percentage points was the calculated contribution of robots to GDP. This figure is on-par with the estimated contributions to labor productivity of railroads in the nineteenth century and highways in the twentieth century.
As robots become increasingly cheaper to produce and acquire while their productivity continues to also rise, human workers become a much less efficient investment for businesses around the world. Many industries (specifically those related to production and manufacturing) have already experienced the wide-scale takeover of robots and seen significant job loss for human employees. However, as technology improves, perhaps more industries will fall victim to automation as more tasks can be completed more effectively by robots than humans. While many consider the gains from technology to have significantly slowed down in recent years, the appeal of equal productivity at cheaper costs by means of replacing human workers with robots may become increasingly appealing to many businesses. Perhaps the real threat of robots in the future is not to human health and safety by means of an AI revolution, but rather to employment by simply being better than humans at their jobs.