Robotics was named the highest priority for tech investment this year, according to an IDC Manufacturing Insights' 2017 robotics survey, which examined robotics markets in the U.S., China and Germany, among others.
In a ranking of the top three investments for companies across the manufacturing, retail, health and utilities industries, over half of surveyed companies prioritized robotics. Mobility and cybersecurity tech followed close behind with 44% and 43.6%, respectively.
The fast-growing robotics applications are being used to reduce operation costs and improve product quality and customer service, said Dr. Jing Bing Zhang, research director for IDC Manufacturing Insights Asia Pacific and Worldwide Robotics.
It may come as a surprise to some that more companies are investing in robotics than cybersecurity tech, which affects every business with at least one computer and incurs staggering costs annually. But in the last few years, the robotics market has vastly expanded across industry and geographic lines.
Warehouse bots are being brought it to optimize supply chain management, and surgical bots are being used to zap germs and patch wounds. Delivery robots can now legally operate in Virginia, and crawlers are lengthening the life expectancy of power plants.
Marked progress in the tech industry is often accompanied by fears of automation and job loss. Estimates have predicted more than 7.5 million workers could be displaced by robots and automation by 2021, and some experts believe machines may replace non-factory jobs such as real estate brokers and loan officers within the decade.
McKinsey estimates that half of knowledge work activity can be automated, and general automation could save $16 trillion in wages and raise global productivity 0.8% to 1.4% annually. Furthermore, automation is projected to affect under 5% of all occupations.
Experts note that the turn to a highly automated economy may prove challenging, but in the long run machines taking over repetitive, time-consuming tasks could allow workers to take on more skilled and specialized jobs and attain better wages and workplace satisfaction.
CIOs and other executives need to figure out how the transition to a workplace where robots and humans work side by side will take place. In August, Siemens researchers unveiled factory designs accommodating such a partnership.
As robots take up more space in the workplace, employees who can program and upkeep them will be in demand. Computer science is already the highest-paying major in the U.S., and half of the highest paid fields are STEM-based.
There are certainly initiatives to train workers for a career in the tech industry, such as Andrew Ng's online deep learning course to train AI experts and Bill Gates' proposed 'robot tax' to fund training for workers to new jobs. However, companies and workers need to start preparations now if they hope to be on the front end of the 60% CAGR growth in robotics automation projected to take place by 2022.
With the expansion of the robotics market, related tech positions now have greater freedom in where they choose to take those skills. Software-related jobs in Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Detroit have been on the rise for the last five years, and cities outside of Silicon Valley are offering tempting combinations of high wages and low costs of living. This year, Columbus, Ohio took home the crown for the best place for tech workers.