If Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has his way, there will be a robot Olympics in 2020. Not long ago, the idea would be laughable. But all around the world, people are holding competitions to assess the capabilities of robots. Robots are here, and they're beginning to do meaningful labor beyond assembly lines.
Between last October and May of this year, the number of robots ferrying goods about Amazon.com's warehouses grew from about 1,300 to more than 10,000 -- an eightfold increase. During this period, Google bought at least eight companies developing robot-related technology, deepening its commitment to automated systems that already power its self-driving cars.
The consulting firm McKinsey issued a report last year predicting that knowledge work automaton tools and systems could have $5.2 trillion to $6.7 trillion of economic impact annually by 2025. The report calculates the potential productivity gain of automation as "equivalent to the output of 75 million to 90 million full-time workers in advanced economies and 35 million to 50 million full-time workers in developing countries." Whether such automated work takes the form of additional productivity or the replacement of human labor remains to be seen.
In an effort to capture a portion of that revenue, the UK government introduced its robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) strategy in July in conjunction with a $257 million funding commitment to advance UK robotics research.
Robots and automation are redefining labor and productivity, for better or worse. Tune in Tuesday, July 29 at 2:00 p.m. EST/11:00 a.m. PST to hear InformationWeek editor Thomas Claburn interview San Diego State University professor Robert Judge about how changing technology has made mobile robotic systems more broadly useful for business and how automation will take over more and more tasks done by knowledge workers.
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