Ch. III—Soclai Issues
A knowledgeable, technologically skilled worker would be easier to retrain for some other job, somewhere else in the plant.
One observer at the workshop suggested that the reason the Japanese work force seemed to welcome robots in their plants was the high level of technological literacy re- ported for the average Japanese employee. This characteristic, accordingly, would give the employer greater latitude in finding
another and possibly even more skilled job for a displaced worker.
If the introduction of robotics into a plant is not to result in unemployment, a program of retraining displaced workers to take on new jobs may be necessary. Retraining may also be required for those workers who re- main, for their existing jobs will change in form and function even if their job title re- mains the same.
Concern about economic competition in this technology from Europe and Japan was repeated often. Panelists pointed to large in- vestments abroad both for research and de- velopment and for encouraging the use of robots. This potential competition exists on two levels: 1) developing and selling robotics technology, itself, and 2) using robots to pro- duce goods more competitively (for example automobiles).
Some experts felt that the directions of robotics-related research were significantly different between the United States and other nations, notably Japan. U.S. research- ers emphasize software and highly flexible systems while many foreign laboratories are concentrating on hardware. No one main- tained that the foreign state of the art in robotics was superior to that in the United States. “Technological leads” are hard, in general, to either prove or disprove.
There was a general feeling that the uti- lization of robots was further advanced in
several nations (possibly including the Sovi- et Union) compared to the United States. Some analysis of the Japanese and Soviet picture is presented in the background paper by Aron (app. B, item 1).
The issue of international competition cre- ates conflicts in import/export policy. Con- trols might be placed on exports of industrial robots either for national security reasons or to limit foreign access to domestic high tech- nology that increases the competitiveness of
S. firms. However, such controls also deny
S. robot manufacturers access to foreign
markets. Even if the total international market in robots, per se, were to remain relatively small, robot technology would be a vital component in the much larger interna- tional market for sales of complete auto- mated factories.
Some issues of export controls are exam- ined in the context of East/West trade in a recent OTA study (10).
Some panelists and other consultants ex- pressed concern that an examination of the impacts of robotics not be restricted only to applications to traditional industrial auto- mation. Because of their ability to work in environments that are hazardous, difficult,
or even impossible for a human to enter or survive, there may be future uses of robots that represent new opportunities.
For example, several defense applications were mentioned. While there is work on