Coronavirus and the robot revolution

Coronavirus and the robot revolution

As COVID-19 continues its global attack, many people are thinking that robots look like a pretty good investment right now.

If you're a company decision-maker spooked by the pandemic's massive disruption of economies and supply chains, greater automation of your production lines has a distinct appeal. Robots don't get paid, demand benefits, commute, take vacation, or go on strike. They also don't take sick leave, ask for PPE, or sneeze on other robots. Also, crucially, you can put robots wherever you like – making it easier to take production back to your home country.


If you're an investor trying not to check the balance on your 401K right now, you might be thinking about how automation can make companies more efficient and more profitable, pushing stock prices higher so that you can retire before you turn 80.

If you're a consumer, you might see new value in transactions that don't include the kind of personal contact that spreads deadly viruses.

For all these reasons, COVID-19 will accelerate a process of automation that was already well underway in many sectors. Research shows that the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 already led to the replacement of many workers with machines.

A few thoughts on the implications….

It won't happen all at once. This kind of change takes lots of investment that businesses won't make at a time when demand for their products is low.

Some jobs are easier to automate than others. Coronavirus doesn't change that, even if it creates economic incentives to think more deeply about what's possible. In the US and Europe, employers will be looking in particular to automate many of the millions of retail, services, and manufacturing jobs that have been vacated in recent weeks.

Overseas jobs will also be a target if pressure to bring production "home" now grows.

New kinds of jobs are coming. History shows that technological change can create more jobs than it kills. But the new jobs are likely to fall into one of two broad categories: digital-age jobs for a digital economy and service jobs that don't pay like they used to. That leaves a lot of people out.

Automation will worsen inequality in wealthy countries. This transition to new forms of work won't come easy. People with skillsets better suited to the digitized workplace will have a much easier time than people expected to develop those skills from scratch. The result could intensify the inequality that has already stoked populism and upended political establishments in so many countries in recent years.

Robots pose a special challenge in emerging markets. Hundreds of millions of jobs are at stake in lower-wage countries that have operated for decades as factories for the world's textiles and light manufacturing industries. The International Labor Organization has warned, for example, that 140 million jobs in Southeast Asia alone are at risk of automation in the next 15 years. That's more than half the region's salaried labor force. And that was before the pandemic created new reasons for companies to turn to robots in order to safeguard their production and supply chains against future disruptions.

In both rich and poor countries, governments better be ready. Lost jobs and greater inequality mean that political leaders better be thinking about ways to rewrite the social contract to help those people who can learn new skills and new jobs, and to support those who can't. Displaced people make trouble in democracies and dictatorship alike.

One last thought….

Robots gets viruses too! Cyber-viruses can be just as virulent as biological ones. (Hey, maybe robots do take sick leave.) If companies move to automate their labor forces, they'll also have to invest massively in cybersecurity to immunize them against hackers.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

More Show less

Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

More Show less

Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

More Show less

80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

More Show less

On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Does alcohol help bring the world together?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal