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Robot Apocalypse does it Matter for India’s Manufacturing Industry?

Sunil Mani
WP 474

The anxiety that technology will displace jobs on a large scale in the near future is flooding both academic and public debates, primarily in the developed world. The recent publication of a study by Oxford Martin School has predicted that a large number of occupations will see an increased rate of automation. Increased automation is likely to have an adverse effect on employment, especially in the manufacturing sector.  India has been trying to increase employment through the manufacturing route. But the capital intensity of its manufacturing sector has been showing a steady increase. Employing a comprehensive dataset from the International Federation of Robotics, the study analyses the nature and extent of diffusion industrial robots in Indian manufacturing industry. Instead of an occupation-based approach, the study uses a task-based one, which presents a more accurate picture of the effect of automation on manufacturing employment. The study shows that   the operational stock of industrial robots in manufacturing industry has been showing a systematic increase with the density of robots in the manufacturing sector increasing from less than one per 10000 manufacturing employment to almost 10 in 2016. Most of the robot use is confined to the automotive industry and within it, the application area of welding. This task is supposed to be very human unfriendly and so the diffusion of industrial robots does not appear to be having a deleterious effect on manufacturing employment. However, with significant developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots are becoming more flexible and this may lead to automation of a number of tasks, which were previously thought to be non automatable.