Robots Have Been Taking Jobs at a Blistering Pace in China

August 23, 2017, 5:55 PM UTC

China “hired” more robot workers than any other nation last year.

Shipments of robots to the country accounted for nearly one-third of the global total, according to estimates from the International Federation of Robotics. Installations of robot technology in industrial settings increased by 27% and are expected to grow another 75% by 2019, according to the IFR estimates.

One of the reasons for the rapid growth: The country has a lot of catching up to do.

China still has fewer robots per worker — 49 robots to every 10,000 humans — than the global average of 69. It’s much lower than the density in the U.S., which is among the top five nations for industrial robots with 176 robots for every 10,000 human workers, according to IFR.

Beijing wants to reach a density of about 150 per 10,000 human workers by 2020 and is buying an increasing number of Chinese-made robots to fuel automation efforts across sectors like food, electronics, and car manufacturing.

So far the growth in robot installation hasn’t depressed wages in the country. Manufacturing workers in China saw more than 50% wage growth from 2010 to 2014 according to Chinese Household Finance Data. Economists say the increase in automation in China could have global effects as it risks exacerbating the country’s exports-driven economy.

Fears about the growing use of robots reach beyond job loss and wage stagnation. Earlier this week Elon Musk and others called for a ban of autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” in a letter addressed to the United Nations.

For now though, less threatening robots in China are busy dancing their way into the Guinness Book of World Records.