Robots are coming to China.
China is expected to surpass Japan as the world’s largest robotics market in two years, raising concerns that the machines will put the jobs of an entire class of Chinese migrant workers at risk, Technology Review reports.
Rising wages in China could make the machines preferable to human workers, but some may be hesitant to fully embrace the boom given China's slowing economy, according to CNN.
Most notably, Terry Guo of chief executive of Foxconn, a company that makes products for companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Nintendo, revealed tentative plans last July to add one million industrial robots to its workforce over three years. Since then, he’s discussed no further details of the plan.
"Guo has good reasons for not waving his flag about this too much," Beijing-based strategic communications and IT analyst David Wolf told Technology Review. “It is politically inadvisable to talk too much about replacing people with robots."
Foxconn has already faced scrutiny this year after reports of inhumane working conditions at its factories. Even after the media attention reportedly led the company to improve conditions at its factories, one worker committed suicide last month by leaping from his apartment.
At Foxconn a robot could replace up to four workers, according to Technology Review. Meanwhile, a 62 percent increase in robotic imports has made using an automated system cheaper than using live workers in eastern China, China Daily reports.
But China isn't the only place where workers are concerned about their jobs being taken by robots. In the U.S., corporate investment in equipment and software increased by 33 percent between 1999 and 2011, while employment growth has continued to be slugglish. Robots are now replacing warehouse workers, Wall Street traders and even sex workers.
Still, not all occupations are so easily automated. Jobs that aren’t routine and require creative skills, such as politics, media and health care are the least likely to be replaced by robots, Fiscal Times reports.