It Is Not Technological Development That Drives Automation But Demography

Scientists from MIT and Boston University show that robotization and automation are most often used in ageing societies. Their task is to fill demographic gaps, especially in the industrial workforce.

It is believed that progressive automation and robotization result naturally from technological development itself. Theoretically, it is enough to develop even more advanced robots or even “smarter” artificial intelligence algorithms to replace other social groups performing specific professions. In practice, however, it works quite differently.

Old workers, young robots

A new study by MIT and Boston University showed that countries with an ageing workforce are seeing a much more significant increase in the use of robots. “The demographic factor is responsible for 35% of the differences in the level of adoption of robotics solutions between countries. In those countries where workers are older, we see a much greater propensity to use machines. “

The latest research is yet another issue related to automation undertaken by both scientists. In the earlier, they defined, among other things, the late 1980s as a key moment when automation began to replace more jobs than it created.

Ageing leaders: South Korea and Germany

The study covered demographic, technology and industry data from the early 1990s to mid-2010. On the one hand, in 60 countries around the world, the social proportions between employees aged over 55 and people aged 21 to 55 were examined. On the other, these data were compared with the popularity of using robots.

A 10% increase in the ageing level of the surveyed population translates into a 6.45% development of companies specializing in the installation and maintenance of industrial robots.

The researchers found that the age factor accounted for 35% of the variation in automation use between the countries studied and 20% of the difference in robot imports. It turned out that South Korea is both the fastest-ageing country and the most widely deployed robotics country. Similarly, the ageing population of Germany translates into a whopping 80% difference in robot deployment compared to the United States.

As Daron Acemoglu says – “Our findings suggest that a large part of the investment in robotics is not because this is another technological frontier that is worth reaching and crossing, but because some countries lack human resources, especially in middle age “.

It’s not just robots – demography drives all automation.

Analyzing data from 129 countries, Acemoglu and Restrepo concluded that a similar trend also applies to other non-robotics varieties of automation. At the same time, they found that, depending on the country and its demographic profile, the factor driving the development of automation may differ. What’s more, it also affects the economic condition of the workers replaced by robots.

Suppose the main factor contributing to automation is the ageing of employees and the related need to fill the labour shortage (as is the case in Germany). In that case, the economic situation of the replaced people does not deteriorate. On the other hand, in a situation where automation is performed rather in connection with the implementation of a labour cost reduction strategy (e.g. in the United States), the replaced employees are usually younger, and their economic situation may deteriorate.

In addition, the study also proved a strong relationship between an ageing population and an increase in robotics innovation (tested by the number of patents in this field filed in a given country).

Also Read : Too Much Technology? You Need Digital Planning.