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Businesses Robotics

Robots Ride To the Rescue Where Workers Can't Be Found (nytimes.com) 82

Fast-growing economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages, so companies are calling in the machines [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: In many major economies, companies are experimenting with replacing factory workers, truck drivers and even lawyers with artificial intelligence, raising the specter of a mass displacement of jobs. But in Eastern Europe, robots are being enlisted as the solution for a shortage of workers. Often they are helping to create new types of jobs as businesses in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland try to stay agile and competitive. Growth in these countries, which became low-cost manufacturing hubs for Europe after the fall of Communism, has averaged 5 percent in recent years, buoyed by the global recovery.

Few are riding higher than the Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota and consumer electronics for Dell, while smaller companies produce specialty goods to sell around the world. A roaring economy has slashed the jobless rate to just 2.4 percent, the lowest in the European Union. The dearth of manpower, however, has limited the ability of Czech companies to expand. Nearly a third of them have started to turn away orders, according to the Czech Confederation of Industry, a trade group.

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Robots Ride To the Rescue Where Workers Can't Be Found

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  • Headlines, man... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TimMD909 ( 260285 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @04:50PM (#56460361) Homepage
    Is this is an article about workers who are lost? No. Is this an article about robots transporting people? No. Is this an article about search and rescue? No.
  • We are statistically due and perhaps over-due for a global recession based on the usual "business cycle" patterns. They usually keep the bots and fire the humans during slumps.

    • Will be great in Sweden with record house hold debt, housing prices, negative interest rate, weak krona, lots of new immigrants, a budget which haven't saved up any money these years because we've used the money for that other thing, no reforms or political changes whatsoever really because Swedish politics has only been about which one thing.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 )

        ...no reforms or political changes whatsoever really because Swedish politics has only been about which one thing.

        And that thing is? Don't leave us hanging!

    • They usually keep the bots and fire the humans during slumps.

      It is not that simple. Automation leverages rather than just replacing human labor, and no factories are 100% automated.

      Let's say there are two factories with equal output. The first has 100 human workers. The second has 50 human workers and 50 robots. What happens in a recession when demand falls? The robots are a sunk cost, and cannot be "fired". So a worker in the automated second factory has twice the marginal value to his employer as a worker in the first factory.

      Result: People that work with au

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        People that work with automation will keep their jobs

        Perhaps, but human bot maintainers are probably roughly a 1:10 ratio to bots. Further, R&D on future bots may likely be cut because it's not an immediate return. During slumps, "non essential" staff is often cut, and R&D is not immediately essential. The math doesn't seem to support your point.

  • This is a global phenomenon already. As birth rates fall in developed countries, older workers are retiring and cannot be easily replaced. Some tasks that used to be attractive (factory work, service jobs) now nobody wants to do. With all the pressure to get a college degree -- and the resulting debt in many cases -- nobody so educated will want to do factory work, and spoon-feed aging seniors. While less developed countries can fill the labor gap in places with labor shortages, there are other pressures to

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Well it's better that we reach a sustainable demographic rather than depending on an ever increasing pyramid of young outnumbering the old because eventually you run out of expansion room as these people need land to grow food, sources of water, use non-renewable fuel and minerals, create trash and pollution and so on. And they grow old too, leading to an exponential need for more young. Sure, it could be nice for our generation if they kept building that bridge to nowhere until we're dead and buried, but i

    • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

      The actual problem is that a large percentage of the skilled workers in these eastern european countries are now living and working in western europe. Perhaps if the respective governments had listened that said emigration was causing problems in the UK, and agreed to some limits then Brexit would not have happened.

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@po[ ]c.com ['eti' in gap]> on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @05:09PM (#56460471)

    "economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages"

    Aren't these the same countries that are refusing to accept refugees? I'm missing the logic here. Or maybe they feel that keeping a 'pure' ethnic environment is more important than a good economy.

    • Their economies are much better than ours.
      They will do better.

      Robots will beat westerners and westerners beat third world people so you've got no point here whatsoever.

      They will do better and they won't have all the other people in their societies.

    • "economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages"

      Aren't these the same countries that are refusing to accept refugees? I'm missing the logic here. Or maybe they feel that keeping a 'pure' ethnic environment is more important than a good economy.

      Or maybe they want to keep the explosions and beheadings to a minimum.

    • Just because the unemployment rate is low means they are living the life. Eastern Europe has never recovered after the fall of communism where developers still make $600 a month writing software for crying out loud. They want to have life like the rest of us and is quite hard when wages for a skilled job are so low still.

      I am skeptical as always as corporations LOVE adding this by the marketing departments to make them not look evil or bad guys when importing H1B1 visa workers, robots, or bus in illegal im

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Article from Dec 2016: "1.2 MILLION migrants arrived in Germany in two years: just 34,000 or 2.8% have found a job" [express.co.uk]
      These "refugees" aren't coming for jobs. They're coming for welfare and handouts.

    • Surprise, there are more important things than prioritizing economic growth over all. Refugees are unskilled and incompatible with their host cultures. They are backward, don't speak the language nor care to learn, and are illiterate in their own native language. Importing them is a bad solution, as Germany has shown us.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The problems with their economies are complex and, like in many other places, the financial crisis and wars in Syria and Libya have given politicians with a strong anti-immigration stance a boost.

      For example, there is a labour shortage but the labour is not well paid. They could pay more, but it's cheaper to just get robots.

      There is also a lot of frustration that it is taking a long time for those countries to build up to similar levels as the rest of the EU. Perhaps people had unrealistic expectations abou

  • by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @05:27PM (#56460579) Journal

    As in employers can't legally hire laborers at any price? (This is the definition of an economic shortage.)

    Or as in employers just don't want to pay market rates for labor?

    • At 2.4% unemployment they simply are out of workers in the country.

      • like we do here in America? e.g. massively under report the number of unemployed and underemployed? America plays all sorts of games with unemployment statistics so we can make excuses to give out more "temporary" work visas. During Trump's campaign there were interviews with people who applied at his resorts for seasonal work and weren't hired because their jobs went to visa holders (who work longer hours for less pay).
      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        At 2.4% unemployment they simply are out of workers in the country.

        Yes, please continue.

      • I disagree.

        Even with no unemployment rate supply and demand dictates if you are willing to pay more you will get employees. Simple.

        These big corporate free market pseudo-GOP purists LOVE the free market when it benefits them. Then cry foul and need the government socialism when it costs too much. They are not true conservatives obviously as you can't have it both ways.

        Many HR departments still think it is the great recession and haven't offered more money than in 2009. Those that have are not complaining ab

  • >> Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota

    I still check where a car was assembled before I will buy it. As in: USA, Mexico or Czech Republic? = No sale. Germany or Japan? = I'll consider it. Sorry Toyota...
    • They can't assemble cars in Japan or Germany as they take up too much space and volume on the cargo ships which would dramatically increase the cost.

      The parts can be stacked and boxed tight 10 fold or perhaps 100 fold per container.

      • And yet there are regular car ferries from e.g. Japan to Europe for the models that aren't assembled over here. Japanese companies opened factories in Europe to get around import limits, not because it was cheaper.

    • That's dumb. What does the place of assembly have to do with purchasing decisions?

      Do you have some dataset on place of assembly and reliability that the rest of us don't?

      Or are you a dual citizen of Germany and Japan, and just trying to support your countries?

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Actually there was an investigation on NHK (Japanese national broadcaster) where they examined the "made in Japan" claims of several products. Many of them critical parts made overseas, e.g. a DVR with a Samsung hard drive or a TV with an LG LCD panel.

  • Seriously, AI lawyers are best at their jobs.

    You can tell by their success rate of 100 percent in 1 out of 1 cases they have won, and by all the threatening lawyer letters they send that say "We will replace your CPUs with peanut butter if you don't comply!"

  • Roll to the rescue!

    Regards,
    Heatwave

  • yep, ofcourse they have shortage of workers, they all are off working in other EU countries, sometimes I even think I'm in Poland when I'm going shopping, even more PL licenseplates in the carpark than native NL..

I've got a bad feeling about this.

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