NEW YORK—The articles are abundant, including those that I have written for Vision Monday—robots and Artifical Intelligence (AI) are quickly entering the future of work. One famous study predicted 47 percent of today’s jobs may be automated by 2034.

As we have seen in the optical industry, nowhere is automation as immediately evident as it is in manufacturing. It has been growing with increased sophistication, with more advanced robot “factory workers” more evident in smaller manufacturing, fabrication, assembly and related work environments.

Automated Intelligence skills will be very useful. However, a large amount of the remaining work yet to be automated in optical industry manufacturing and assembly still requires a delicate human touch. And that is the area in which the next breakthrough will receive the greatest attention and focus.

It has been my experience that there are two particularly strong drivers behind robotic and AI adoption: capability and cost competitiveness. Both are tied to advances in computing and AI, and we are now seeing gains in capability matched by falling costs of factory robots.

Regulations favoring humans over robots may prevent quick adoption in certain countries. The Boston Consulting Group notes that of the top 25 manufacturing export economies, many of the slowest to adopt robots are in Europe, despite having some of the highest wages in the world and aging work forces. Among other factors, labor laws in these countries may make it difficult to replace human workers with robots.

All this hints at the emergence of a fascinating shift in the global economy: in the future, large manufacturing countries may not just compete for the cost of human labor, they will increasingly compete with robotics adoption as well.

Wage gaps between low-cost and high-cost economies continue to narrow, and we will find that AI and robot adoption will increasingly emerge as an important new factor that will contribute to redrawing the competitive balance among economies and the competitors in global manufacturing, including in the optical industry.

Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor
Managing Partner
Aligned Growth Partners, LLC
(707) 217-0979