Automation Nation: Robots and Red States
Earlier this week, Mark Muro of Brookings published an intriguing essay titled “Where The Robots Are.” The title of the piece is actually a little bit misleading, because his writing focuses more specifically on industrial robots, which are defined as “automatically controlled, reprogrammable machines” capable of replacing labor in a range of tasks. A longer report on the impact of all forms of automation in the United States is scheduled for later this year.
The reprogrammable machines that turn out to be mainly concentrated in 10 states. Writes Muro: “Robots are congregating densely in some places but are hardly found in others. Specifically, the map makes clear that while industrial robots are by no means everywhere, they are clustered heavily in a short list of Midwestern and Southern manufacturing states, especially the upper Midwest.”
What’s even more interesting is that these concentrations are highest in the states that helped swing the 2016 general election:
“The robots map suggests that robot and broader economic anxiety (along with associated labor market stresses) may also max out in the industrial Midwest — particularly in such robot-exposed ‘red’ states as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania where the election’s outcome was determined. . . It is telling that the robot incidence in red states that voted for President Trump in November is more than twice that in the blue states that voted for Hillary Clinton, according to our analysis of the International Federation for Robotics data (a finding that parallels an earlier analysis by economist Jed Kolko of the geography of the ‘routine’ jobs deemed vulnerable to automation).”
Assigning a direct relationship between increased automation and political affiliation doesn’t account for all the complexities of the various Midwest states mentioned in this report. But, Muro’s essay does remind us that the transition to a more technologically-efficient society has been an unequally distributed wave. Regions not yet reached by this wave should better prepare themselves for the future by carefully studying how significantly this transition has impacted others.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.