UN report says robots threaten two thirds of jobs in developing countries

In the past, the United Nations has considered the threat posed by weaponized AI, but now the body is looking at a more mundane, but still important, robot invasion. A report from the latest UN Conference on Trade and Development has outlined how the increasing use of industrial automation is impacting jobs in developing countries, and what strategies may help in overcoming the problem.

Robots taking over human jobs has been a concern for decades, but those concerns generally focus on developed countries. The report points out that developing countries in Africa and Latin America may be at greater risk of having their industrialization slow down, since the increasing use of robots is eating into the low-cost labor advantage that developing countries have traditionally held. Up to two thirds of those occupations may be at risk.

Another issue is the trend of "reshoring." Functioning as opposite of offshoring, reshoring sees companies move their labor operations back to developed countries, to be carried out by robots or automated systems. While it has the potential to disrupt developing countries from industrializing, the report notes that reshoring has so far been slow-paced, and hasn't undermined the continued offshoring.

A counterintuitive solution may actually be to introduce more robots. If developing countries had a sizable low-skilled workforce, comprised of both humans and robots, it might make them a more attractive option than other countries. Combining the two may actually create a better workforce than either human or robot alone, and mixing in other automation technologies, like 3D printing, might also help countries keep a competitive edge.

With developing countries hoisting themselves up by embracing digital technology, the report suggests that developed countries could lend a hand by improving their own work conditions. Better worker benefits could stimulate the economy, leading to increased demand for goods and boosting the manufacturing opportunities for developing countries.

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