Robots are key tools for boosting productivity and living standards. To date, most robot adoption has occurred in manufacturing, where there are robots designed to perform a wide variety of manual tasks more efficiently and consistently than humans. But with continued innovation, robot use is spreading to many other sectors, too, from agriculture to logistics to hospitality. As this trend continues—making robots increasingly important to productivity and competitiveness economy-wide—robot adoption will be a vital economic indicator for policymakers to monitor as a sign of growth and progress. The question is how best to measure it? The most commonly used method is to calculate the number of industrial robots as a share of manufacturing workers. But it is important to consider that there is a stronger economic case for adopting robots in higher-wage economies than there is in lower-wage economies. So, the more germane question is: Where do nations stand in robot adoption when we take wage levels into account?
This report examines robot adoption—controlling for wages—in 27 nations. It finds that Southeast Asian nations significantly outperform the rest of the world, and Europe and the United States lag significantly behind. If these gaps persist or continue to widen, it will bode ill for the future economy-wide productivity and competitiveness of Europe and America, and both regions need to identify and adopt policies to dramatically increase their rates of robot adoption.