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China Robotics Hardware

Foxconn To Employ 1 Million Robots 372

hackingbear writes "Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn will replace some of its workers with 1 million robots in three years to cut rising labor expenses and improve efficiency. Foxconn, the world's largest maker of computer components, which assembles products for Apple, Sony and Nokia, employing 1 million (human) laborers in mainland China, is in the spotlight after a string of suicides of workers at its massive Chinese plants. As labor regulations tighten up in China, human laborers demanding wage rises become replaceable."
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Foxconn To Employ 1 Million Robots

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  • I for one welcome our robotic overlords!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What happens when the robots start committing suicide?

    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @02:34AM (#36937380) Homepage Journal

      Same as my, er, Android phone. Schedule a reboot every five days.

    • by txoof ( 553270 )
      The suicide "problem" at FoxCon is a bit overblown; for the number of employees, FoxCon is right around the national average for suicides in China. That's not to say the working conditions are great, or that FC is entirely blameless, but statistically, working at FC is no more suicideagenic than being Chinese.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak ( 669689 )

        statistically, working at FC is no more suicideagenic than being Chinese.

        Interesting, but irrelevant.
        "being Chinese" is not the peer group a reasonable study would compare Foxconn works too.
        You'd look at factory workers doing similar jobs.

        And unlike the general Chinese population, the workers at Foxconn are killing themselves specifically because of the shitty conditions at Foxconn.

        • Re:Robots problems (Score:4, Informative)

          by Spacelem ( 189863 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @03:27AM (#36937586)

          The suicide rate for workers in Foxconn was something like a quarter of the Chinese national average. I've never seen suicide statistics for the general factory worker population in China, but without this information there is no evidence that working for Foxconn is a risk factor.

        • Do you believe that because you looked into that yourself or because you saw the words 'Foxconn', 'suicide', 'Apple', and 'working conditions' numerous times right here on Slashdot?

        • the workers at Foxconn are killing themselves specifically because of the shitty conditions at Foxconn.

          And not at all because their life sucked - working for Foxconn or not - but if they died then Foxconn paid their families a comparatively large amount of money.

      • Not 'under a bus', 'in my bathtub', but 'off the roof of my employer's factory'. Workplace-releated suicides must be somewhat rarer than, say, romance- or test-score-related suicides. And, I'd say, throwing yourself off your boss' roof, indicates a work grievance.
        • by adolf ( 21054 )


          What if you live at work? Most of us in the US don't, but in a Chinese factory things are a bit different.

          The closest I can think for an analogy is the military. Where does an airman (or a soldier, or whoever) kill himself, if he lives and works in the same compound?

    • What happens when the robots start committing suicide?

      Sir, it seems to have jumped on the floor.

  • No doubt they will pass the savings onto us... And iPads will be cheaper than a bushel of wheat, even if they are a bit crunchy

  • Peak Employment? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Sunday July 31, 2011 @02:38AM (#36937392) Journal
    We've heard of Peak Oil. I wonder if there's Peak Employment? And have we reached it? There are so many SF stories of robots making people obsolete, of that being such a strong and recurring theme in the genre, that they have to be on to something.
    • Do you have any clue what peak oil even is? Or what a logistic model of growth is, and why grows exponentially first and then slopes off as the marginal cost of growth increases?

      Human labor is not inhibited like population growth, or it's first-derivative cousin natural resource extraction, because there's a fixed amount of it at any given time. If there's a decrease in demand for labor, then the price of it falls until the quantity demanded matches the quantity supplied. If that sounds scary, what that mea

      • You assume that there will always be demand. In practice, there has to be a limit to how much people can consume. Once you reach the point where people are buying new clothes every day just to avoid the inconvenience of washing, where do you go from there? Worse, we may just start hitting resource limits. The various metals are good for a long time, but freshwater is growing expensive, and farmable land is finite.
        • > but freshwater is growing expensive

          Consider that wealth of average person is constantly growing (normal western workers live like kings used to live a few hundred years ago). So it might not matter in the future that water is expensive if everyone can afford it. We got plenty of seawater and like metals, water is reusable. A household could recycle their own water using plants.

          > farmable land is finite

          Perhaps, but humans have a history if increasing both the land size and amount of food that we can

          • Average wealth is growing ... but median wealth is dropping, the only thing propping up consumption is debt, debt and more debt.

          • Consider that wealth of average person is constantly growing (normal western workers live like kings used to live a few hundred years ago). So it might not matter in the future that water is expensive if everyone can afford it.

            It will be expensive because it's scarce. You can have all the money in the world it's not going to make it rain.

        • I don't understand the point, do you confuse demand with quantity demanded? And in what world does producing clothes from new fabric become cheaper than the process of producing clean clothes? Even if somehow daily shipments to your doorstep became cheaper than throwing it in a washing machine, there's other disposable goods to look to, the concept of one-use goods isn't anything new. Once we reach the point where people are buying new food every day, where do you go from there? We already do, and food isn'

          • The topic title is peak employment, not peak labour.

            He is theorizing that for an environmentally sustainable level of consumption the number of necessary workers per capita could start falling so low there won't be enough jobs to go around ... at least not with a 40 hour work week.

    • Robot maintenance? If you want to keep your job I guess you tweak your skill set. Seems like there will always be a need for humans in the chain, no matter how technologically advanced things get. I know reeducation isn't always possible for the masses, but the masses tend to move on to other factories when doors close up. At the moment manual labor in Asia is a lot cheaper than the cost of buying and maintaining robotic factory lines, until that changes, these people will not be jobless for too long.

      • by dvice_null ( 981029 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @08:11AM (#36938412)

        > Seems like there will always be a need for humans in the chain, no matter how technologically advanced things get.

        Perhaps, but that need is decreasing all the time.

        Few hundred years ago pretty much everyone was working in farming and forest industry. Now one man with a harvester can cut down a whole forest. And a couple of people with fully automatic milking robots can take care of hundreds of cows.

        And when I was a kid I used to buy train tickets from a person. Now I buy those from a machine.

        When programming was just born profession, programmers had assistant to write the code to a punch card. Nowadays those assistants are not needed as code is typed directly into computers.

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      There's probably peak employment by sector. I don't think anyone really wants to be an assembly line worker. When we had a society of relatively poor, illiterate people who came off hard manual labour jobs on farms and into the cities good wages made up for it. But they sent their kids to school precisely so they didn't have to live through the same experience. It's an odd thing to think that your parents wanted a better life for you than they had, and that applies who whole generations of people. Mil

    • Our economy depends on money moving around. Until people develope a concept of 'enough money', no, there will never be peak employment.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @03:32AM (#36937612) Homepage Journal

      almost all manufacturing is much better done if the workers are free to engineer the repetitive human work out of the equation. however, the number of "robots" is irrelevant, which parts they do isn't irrelevant though. unions for large parts try to stop this, as for many workers the aim is to just do the same shift over and over again until they die.

      I mean, you can pound metal with a hammer, or have a machine hammer pounding which is massively better way to do it than with human muscle. similarly you can solder with a machine massively better than by doing it by hand and place components on the boards with machines better and even the assembly stage you can do better if you automate it somehow. however what's good with human workers is that you can start assembling as soon as you get the parts, but you can in no way compete with a more automated, better engineered assembly line with them(this is one thing Ford never understood properly and one thing why gm has been repeatedly put on the brink of bankruptcy and beyond by Japanese and European manufacturers).

      humanoid robots would be for most things be just an intermediate solution, so saying "1 million robots" means actually pretty much nothing, and they don't know yet what they're going to manufacture anyways.

      anyhow, peak employment died when we started building tractors and created an abundance of food. only a very little slice of western society is in any way related to what's necessary for survival, the rest is just people trying to convince others that they're providing a service worth paying for and which could be called a job.

    • "We've heard of Peak Oil."

      More applicable then you might think. Foxconn is putting their eggs in one basket with this approach. They've tied their entire workforce to the price of coal and oil (seeing as most of the energy used to power robots would come from one or the other), as opposed to the price of food, housing and paper money.

      They've also put their entire workforce at risk of going on "strike", much like the Iranians had a bunch of centrifuges go on "strike". Brings corporate cyber-sabotage to a who

      • "Brings corporate cyber-sabotage to a whole new level when you are wiping out a workforce. Humans, you put up a hiring both, three million robots, you go bankrupt."

        Wow. That came out wrong. Dr. Mengele and I sincerely apologize. We'll get back to our logs now.

      • by Arlet ( 29997 )

        The food that people need to eat to work is also tied to the price of coal and oil. To produce a calorie of food, several calories of other fuels are needed.

        Of course, it would also depend on the efficiency of the robot worker compared to the human worker, but I think it should be possible to make the robot more energy efficient per item produced.

    • by shish ( 588640 )

      There are so many SF stories of robots making people obsolete

      These have been around for quite a long time; tractors replacing large groups of field workers, factories replacing blacksmiths, steam engines replacing human muscle -- in all cases it's true that the employment for unskilled manual labour was decimated, however many more jobs opened up in higher-level areas, and the average income and quality of life was raised for all.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      There'll always be demand for personal services, if anything most of the western world is looking at a wave of elderly who'll need care which robots are very poor at. The question is more if the distribution of wealth would become more and more uneven between workers and capitalists. I'm from Norway, a very rich country. I went to vacation in Thailand, a relative poor country though not bottom of the barrel. There was staff everywhere, why? Because it costs almost nothing compared to my Norwegian income, so

  • Dunno if it's a bad sentence, but if ""Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn will replace some of its workers with 1 million robots" I would be flattered if it took one million robots to replace me.

  • Foxconn HQ is in Taiwan, but most of the employees are on the mainland. Are they planning to move more production back to Taiwan?

  • But what were they hiring before? I know it was not skilled labor for a fair wage, or every chunk of shit I have bought in the last few years would not have killed itself in embarrassment.

    • "I know it was not skilled labor for a fair wage, or every chunk of shit I have bought in the last few years would not have killed itself in embarrassment."

      One has nothing to do with the other. You chose to buy expendable consumer goods for good prices and you got what you got.

  • I thought one of the major driving forces to outsourcing was that human labour was cheaper than mechanization. Provided, of course, that the human labour accepted minimal standards for employment (pay, safety, etc.). And that's exactly what developing nations provided.

    And now manufacturers in these nations are talking about increased mechanization in order to circumvent the desire of workers for better conditions of employment. In a lot of respects, it sounds like we (in the western world) just shot ours

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @05:28AM (#36937952)

      And now manufacturers in these nations are talking about increased mechanization in order to circumvent the desire of workers for better conditions of employment. In a lot of respects, it sounds like we (in the western world) just shot ourselves in the head: we shipped out the low skill jobs and we don't have the infrastructure for the high skill jobs needed in highly mechanized factories.

      You need to look a bit further back in history to see when we shot ourselves in the head. Back in the 70s and 80s when robotics first began to be introduced into manufacturing, there was considerable resistance to it in the West because it displaced blue collar workers. We prioritized their jobs over market efficiency. Consequently in the 90s and 00s when a certain country stepped forward who was willing to play hardball in the labor market, a lot of those jobs ended up moving over there.

      If we'd opted for efficiency over jobs in the 70s and 80s and pressed full speed ahead with automated assembly lines, the cost of robotic labor in the West might have been low enough to compete with human labor in China. Those manufacturing industries might have been able to stay here, along with jobs operating and maintaining those automated manufacturing facilities. This is the risk you take when you prioritize anything over efficiency - that someone else will swoop in with a less costly and/or more efficient process and steal all your business from you.

      Foxconn is now shielding themselves so another developing country cannot do to them what they did to the West. If they stuck with human labor as we did, as their wages rose another developing country could undercut their labor prices and steal business from them. To prevent this, they're getting the robots in place now. That'll make it difficult or impossible for another developing country to undercut their manufacturing costs, thus guaranteeing those manufacturing industries stay put in China.

      They see the writing on the wall when it comes to mundane, repetitive tasks performed by humans. The inexorable march of progress in AI and robotics means that long-term, blue collar manufacturing jobs worldwide are a dead end. It may take 30 years, it may take 100+ years, but the inevitable outcome is that all manufacturing labor will be done by machines, not people. It's simply a waste of our time to be doing such mundane tasks. This should have been obvious in the 70s. We should have embraced automation back then and set up re-education programs to teach assembly line workers how to operate and maintain the robots. Then maybe those manufacturing industries might never have moved over to China in the first place.

      • I largely agree with you except the premise that it was unavoidable. The thing with machines, unlike humans, is that they can be shipped from one area (country) to the next. Aside shipping, they won't have to think about moving, get compensation for moving, have wives and kids in a school they like.

        So while, in the 1970s/1980s, if we fully automated, it may have slowed down the move to China, I'm not sure it would have stopped it. In the past, factories located where the existing resources were close (st

  • ...they'll start learning how to operate or repair robots now. Jobs may disappear, but they get replaced by other ones.

    • Their current jobs are likely very low skill. Take part A from box, put it in part B, pass to next worker. Repeat. Becoming capable of maintaining a robot will require a lot of training - who pays for that? And the entire point of automation is that you can replace ten humans with one human and some robots, so what do the other nine do? If China were actually a communist country, then the workers would own the means of production, so replacing them with machines wouldn't affect their income, just the
    • Not as many though. You only need a handful of people to fix the robot that replaced 100 jobs.

  • looks like we're slowly moving towards what http://thevenusproject.com/ [thevenusproject.com] describes. mebbe it's time to replace all those politicians who can't behave by some sort of AI that surely will do better in managing the distribution of resources.
    • by Arlet ( 29997 )

      As long as you have an endless supply of raw resources and energy, that'll work just great.

  • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @03:09AM (#36937518) Homepage
    All you young'uns read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_Piano [wikipedia.org] when you've finally got off my lawn.

    There's an 'interesting' economic problem and endgame in full automation too, most humans aren't 'earning' [except the ones twiddling the robotic controls, that can be done by other robots too] and so they don't have any wages to 'consume'. The utopian 1950s view of this was vastly increased leisure, flying cars and people in white togas. The 2000s view is probably a vast undernourished resentful underclass and maximised value for 'shareholders'.

    Oh well, I guess the world just fills up with robot-prduced Barbies [tm] in big warehouses and the masses east kibble [tm], three meals, every day.
  • 1 Million robots? No cheap labor? We can do that. Is China finally outgrowing it's limitless supply of cheap labor?
  • This would be a good thing if it didn't mean a consolidation of money in the hands of a few. Right?

  • When we look back... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Vitriol+Angst ( 458300 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @04:28AM (#36937790)

    ... I think we will call this the beginning of the "Post Labor Age." We've had the industrial revolution, the computer revolution and the Internet age.

    >> I seriously think that we CANNOT keep society intact and life civil without changing the way we look at "earning a living." We already have so many "make work" jobs in our economy -- to keep people busy. I'd say that only 5% of us even do something necessary.

    And before you tell everyone how NECESSARY your job is -- consider that marketing, accounting, legal and sales are all about "distributing" or influencing people to purchase. Tax complications, keep many accountants employed. Haggling with insurance companies for a Doctors office.

    Once automation is able to replace most construction, and expert systems most accountants and boiler-plate legal work -- the amount of money that goes to those who OWN these smart factories of the future will be greater -- and the demand for labor, less.

    The planet just hit 7 Billion people and it is estimated, we are using resources that would require 1 and a half earths to fulfill (an estimate of the "load bearing" capacity of the planet).

    >> AS harsh as we are now in the USA to what we call "deadbeats", I think we are a generation away from most people being useless -- intensive education of the brightest, or the OWNING of resources and patents will only employ a small percentage of the population.

    It could be a golden age -- or a Darwinian nightmare -- it all depends on how we deal with this as a society. I fear that the Wealthiest, are too busy trying to create a police state and already look upon the teaming masses as useless eaters.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @04:54AM (#36937854)

    I guess I can look forward to reading stories about robot suicides in a year or two...

  • The Spacers would be proud.

  • The robots will be used to do simple and routine work such as spraying, welding and assembling which are now mainly conducted by workers, said Gou at a workers' dance party Friday night.

    The guy really knows how to play the crowd.

  • by flimflammer ( 956759 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @06:11AM (#36938076)

    I wonder how many people might kill themselves for having been replaced by a robot and have no job rather than killed themselves over nasty working conditions. I doubt the possibility really isn't that unrealistic.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @10:37AM (#36939004) Homepage Journal

    With potentially 1million 'consumers' out of the mix i wonder what effect this will have on the overall economy growth of China.

    I realize its not a HUGE percentage of people and sure they can still export and make a handful very wealthy, but with that many people out of work again, the local economies will have to suffer.

    • China was beating out robot and hi tech tool assisted manufacturing because they were using humans as much like robots as they could. Undercutting places with high startup costs, high costs in adapting to change, and expensive maintenance -- which cut the number of well paid workers but could not beat the exploited low cost human workers.... until NOW....

      Robotics will eventually win the global RACE TO THE BOTTOM. Meanwhile, our economic system depends upon constant growth when we have limited resources and

"Everyone's head is a cheap movie show." -- Jeff G. Bone