Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Population Change May Mean More Robots in Your Future

Everyone 'knows' that the world's population is constantly increasing. Indeed, the U.S. census bureau projects that the world population will grow by 34% from 2012 to 2050. However, the story changes if we dig down to the country level. Consider the forecasts for the following countries

Country 2012 Population 2050 Population% Change
South Korea48,860,50043,368,983-11%
Source: US Census Bureau

These countries are expected to see population declines.There are some fairly predictable consequences of a population decline. Economically, a smaller workforce means a drop in the GDP.  Real estate prices may also be impacted as there may be fewer people to house and fewer workers at businesses.

Furthermore, these changes typically result in an aging population. Population drops in industrialized countries are the result of lower birth rates. This means a larger population of the elderly. If a larger percentage of the population is retired, then, not only total GDP, but also per capita GDP will drop.

In the labor market, I expect to see workers move upmarket to fill higher-wage job openings. There will be an increasing shortfall of service personnel in low wage jobs. This will only be exacerbated by the need for more caregivers and healthcare for the elderly.

Many of the governments will no doubt compensate with external labor. Increased immigration and guest worker visas can help fill the gaps. However, technology might also play a role in addressing the issues. Supermarkets have already introduced self-checkout options, and I expect to see much more use of automated self-service technology. Increased use of robotics can also lead to labor savings in janitorial and other service professions.

In regard to this conversation, the countries above are interesting because they are among the most technologically advanced in the world. Much of the emerging work in robotics is being done in these countries. Robotic pioneers in these countries will see automation as a necessity, not just as a convenience

Three notable technology-orientated countries missing from this list are the United States, India, and Israel. These countries are expected to see population growths of 35%, 37%, and 43%, respectively. Although they will not face the same labor pressure as the other countries, market pressures will surely spur them to keep up with the other countries in terms of efficiency.

Image is "The Blue Marble" from the Apollo 17 mission. Provided by NASA and found at: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/

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