How will automation change the world?
One way of answering that question is to explore where automation occurs. As an example, here’s a fascinating map of industrial robots’ distribution across the United States from Axios, based on a Brookings report.
You will note that the preponderance are in the midwest and upper (not deep) South. The auto industry is (ahem) a leading driver of automation. “[T]he auto industry—highly concentrated in the Midwest and upper South—currently employs nearly half of all industrial robots in use.”
[M]ore than half of the nation’s 233,305 industrial robots are burning welds, painting cars, assembling products, handling materials, or packaging things in just 10 Midwestern and Southern states… By contrast, the entire West accounts for just 13 percent of the nation’s industrial bots.
A few observations:
(Caveats: this data is two years old (2015). The Brooking author says a new study is in the works. The data also focuses on industrial automation, excluding other categories)
While we look at new automation technologies (self-driving cars, AI, etc.) we can’t forget the importance of older tech and older sectors. (I’ve written about this phenomenon previously in terms of election news, tv ads, daily life), and the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One)
The American geographic areas which win the largest media limelight tend to be parts of the coasts, famously, and for various reasons (population density, media outlet locations). It’s vital to pay attention to the nation’s center in general, as the Democratic party found to its cost last November. This is certainly true for futures work.
Related to that: we have to remember William Gibson’s line about the future’s uneven distribution. While we analyze which social sectors and intellectual domains are most impacted, we can’t lose sight of spatial distribution. As Brookings puts it, “Automation—like so many other economic trends—won’t occur in the same way everywhere.”
Speaking of politics, politically minded observer may note that those states with the highest numbers of machines also voted for Trump in 2016. As per the Wikipedia map,
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…robots appear to be playing a special role in the specific unease of at least one region.
I would add that these states tended to prefer Bernie Sanders to Clinton during that year’s Democratic primaries. Perhaps this is a sign of emergent socio-political responses to automation (among other things). Will populism become the main form of automation reaction, or will some other politics surface?