Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Opinion: Robots displace robots

Western robots have been left jobless, inspiring comments like, 'Will the robots get unemployment benefits at least?'

That’s right. This is what outsourcing in 2019 is turning out to look like. An article titled “American Robots Lose Jobs To Asian Robots As Adidas Shifts Manufacturing" has been doing the rounds online. Many of us thought it’s a spoof, the sort one would expect of The Onion. But the article is a business report. Adidas, it says, is planning to deploy robotic technology in Asia to cut down costs.

The sportswear company has been operating high-tech factories called “speedfactories", run almost fully by robots, near its German headquarters and in the US since 2016. These automated factories were part of a project to take production closer to customers; Adidas was aiming to offset rising wages and shipping costs in Asia. Alas, the firm, which initially envisioned a worldwide network of “speedfactories", must now pull down shutters on these plants. They have turned out to be expensive and ill-suited to the variety of products the company wants to churn out.

Western robots have thus been left jobless, inspiring comments like, “Will the robots get unemployment benefits at least?", “The jobs crisis is really serious, even the robots are losing their jobs", “Robot lives matter!" and “Any word from the union’s spokesbot?". The robots that have gained from the exercise, it would seem, are in Asia, where Adidas still makes shoes—like

almost all sportswear companies. Labour is relatively cheap in the eastern hemisphere, so it’s not entirely clear how automated these plants are. But it’s likely there are a few robots involved. Enough, perhaps, for American robots to protest.

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