As robots become cheaper and more advanced over the next decade, they are likely to replace so many human factory workers that manufacturing labor costs will decrease by 16 percent, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Boston Consulting Group estimates that an increase of robots in the labor market will result in manufacturing costs being cut by 22 percent in the United States alone, reported The Associated Press.
South Korea could see some of the highest cuts to labor costs - by 33 percent, the group estimates. Cuts could be as high as 25 percent in Japan, 24 percent in Canada, 22 percent in Taiwan and 18 percent in China.
"As labor costs rise around the world, it is becoming increasingly critical that manufacturers rapidly take steps to improve their output per worker to stay competitive," said Harold L. Sirkin, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, in a news release. "Companies are finding that advances in robotics and other manufacturing technologies offer some of the best opportunities to sharply improve productivity."
So far, only 10 percent of jobs that can be automated have actually been taken by robots - jobs such as assembly, material handling and packaging. By 2025, robots will be working in 25 percent of automatable jobs.
BGG estimates that robots could be cheaper than paying workers for long-term employment in high-wage countries. Operation costs for machines are expected to drop 22 percent by 2025, with productivity expected to improve by 5 percent each year.
For example, a spot welder robot cost $182,000 in 2005 but only $133,000 in 2014, and is expected to drop further to $103,000 by 2025, BGG says.
Older robots could only operate in a predictable, repetitive environment, but the new line of machines rely on improved sensors to react to unexpected tasks.
The human labor force will need to acquire "very different skills" to compete with robots absorbing "traditional low-cost, low-skill labor" positions, according to the report.
While robots could do wonders for a company's productivity and bottom line, some say they could actually do more harm than good, necessitating an economic and societal restructuring to lessen the impact.
Sirkin said that robots replacing humans will result in a 22 percent smaller manufacturing workforce by 2025, roughly equivalent to a few million workers.
A recent Pew Research Center survey of 2,000 robotics and artificial intelligence experts found that nearly half believe technology will have displaced more jobs than it creates by 2025, reported The Guardian.
To help counter whatever negative effects robots could bring, workers should cultivate skills such as idea generation and select job types that are not subject to fully automation.
Skeptics suggest that lawmakers should aid entrepreneurs in inventing new industries and jobs to replace old ones, and even consider implementing an idea quickly gaining bipartisan support: basic guaranteed incomes for everyone, writes The Guardian.