Research challenges long-held assumptions about how automation will affect employment.

What’s new: Studies in various countries found that automation is associated with more jobs, fewer working hours, and higher productivity, The Economist reported.

What they found: Automation boosted employment in several countries.

  • In a 2022 study, researchers at Aalto University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology used natural language processing to analyze 24 years of Finish government and corporate documents. Companies that invested in tools like robots and computer-controlled lathes, mills, and routers saw an average 23 percent rise in employment with no decline in workers’ education levels.
  • In 2020, Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade, and Industry studied 30 years of data on robot costs (a proxy for use of robots) and employment levels across numerous industries in Japan since 1978. A 1 percent rise in the use of robots in a given region correlated with a 0.28 percent increase in employment.
  • Also in 2020, researchers in France and the UK found that rising automation, reflected by purchases of industrial machinery and consumption of electricity for manufacturing, led to a rise in skilled workers. A 1 percent rise in automation led to an average 0.28 percent increase in employment and a 0.23 percent increase in wages.

Yes, but: While these studies suggest that automation has positive impacts on the workforce, they were conducted in highly developed economies. The situation may vary in other parts of the world, and other studies link robots to lower wages.

Behind the news: Unemployment rates in most of the 38 market-based countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development have mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels. This trend runs counter to the fear expressed by some economists amid the first wave of pandemic-driven lockdowns that the shift to remote work would prompt employers to lay off employees and automate their jobs. Japan and South Korea, whose unemployment rates are among the lowest among developed countries — 2.8 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively — are also the world’s most automated economies.

Why it matters: Fear that automatons will take jobs from humans fuels distrust in AI. Research that counters this notion could help improve public confidence in the technology.

We’re thinking: Even if automation fosters job growth on a statistical basis, it clearly threatens specific jobs in specific industries. In such cases, a just society would provide retraining and upskilling programs so that everyone who wants to work can find gainful employment.

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