Companies are convening on the Automate 2013 conference in Chicago to discuss robotics, automation, and what it all means for the future of industry. Some reports of late have expressed concern that the robot-driven future could have worrying implications for the workers whose jobs could be replaced, but according to the New York Times, the consensus at Automate is that machinery will actually stimulate the workplace. The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has said that factory automation will "directly and indirectly" create between 1.9 million and 3.5 million jobs around the world by 2020.

Robots will create up to 3.5 million jobs by 2020

"It's important to remember that manufacturing produces more jobs in associated areas than anything else," said Dr. Henrik I. Christensen, Kuka Chair of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing, who believes that the jobs lost will be replaced by higher-skilled and higher-paying positions. "Automation has allowed us to compete on a global basis. It has absolutely created jobs in southwest Michigan," agrees Matt Tyler, president of auto parts company Vickers Engineering. "Had it not been for automation, we would not have beat our Japanese competitor; we would not have beat our Chinese competitor; we would not have beat our Mexican competitor. It's a fact."

"This is not happening in either Europe or Japan."

However, the IFR says that the US is behind European and Asian countries in employing manufacturing robots. Germany has twice the robot-to-worker ratio of the US, for example, and South Korea has "sharply increased" its numbers in the past three years. Andreas Bauer of the IFR notes that America is alone in its anxiety over the effects of automation, saying "This is not happening in either Europe or Japan.” And John Dulchinos of Adept Technology says that a less sluggish approach to robotics could have stopped America's manufacturing decline. “I can tell you that in the late 1990s my company’s biggest segment was the cellular phone market. Almost overnight that industry went away, in part because we didn’t do as good a job as was required to make that industry competitive.”