There have been endless popular accounts since the beginning of the pandemic that robots are finally going to take over. After all, if it’s too dangerous for people to go to work, why not just use a bunch of robots? Of course, it’s a lot more complex than that.
Has the pandemic sped up the robot takeover? “Unfortunately, I’m none the wiser,” says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT and one of the leading experts on the impact on automation on the workforce. “I can tell you what I would expect conceptually, theoretically to happen, but we just don’t have the evidence ».
And if in fact demand for robots is now picking up, will be the changes be lasting? Again, says Acemoglu, we just don’t know.
One reason to suspect the adoption is not happening as fast as the hype is that it’s hard, and sometimes expensive, to adopt robots.
Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of the Digital Economy Lab at Stanford and one of the world’s leading voices on the future of automation, and Matt Beane, a professor in technology management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, look more closely at what is actually going on and how automation will look in a “post-pandemic world.”
There are certainly opportunities, and the automation capabilities are advancing. But they also point out that it’s still tricky for companies to integrate robots into their operations. They write: “Because successfully putting robotics into production is a complex undertaking, and most companies aren’t equipped to implement and benefit from these advanced systems…we’ve found that successful adaptation is rare.”
With all the rest we have to worry about, maybe robot domination is one fear we can safely set aside for the time being.