Where are all the Robots?


I found this chart from the IEEE Spectrum showing the worldwide breakdown of industrial robots to be fascinating. I'm not surprised that Japan has the highest density of robots per manufacturing workers, but I was surprised by how far ahead they were of every other country.

IEEE Spectrum: The Rise of Machines (via TokyoMango, illustration by Mike Vella)

(Shawn Connally and Bruce Stewart are guest bloggers)


  1. I initially read that as “robot dentistry” and wasn’t sure if I should be intrigued or weirded out by the idea.

  2. I personally am not terribly surprised. Japan’s demographics are different from the rest of the world. Japan has an extremely old population, low fertility rates, relatively high barriers to imports, and very extreme anti-immigration policies. The net result is that for their population size, they have very few workers, and less ability to import cheap goods.

    You can flip this in contrast to the US which is almost the opposite. The US is still a relatively young population (though nothing like a developing nation), has a very lax immigration policy (at least up until recently), and relatively low barriers to imports.

    Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage Japan has is that is spurs technological innovation. Generally, an aging population and a shrinking worker pool is a bad thing because you have more and more workers supporting non-workers. Japan is blunting some of the pain of this demographic reality by innovating with robots to boost the productivity of the remaining workers. Productivity boosts help some, and they lead to nifty robots, but they still pay the price. Goods in Japan are horrifically expensive by American standards.

    The US on the other hand takes a different tactic. Sure, they also use technology to boost productivity, and the US on the whole has some of the most productive workers in the world, but when was the last time you saw a native born American picking oranges? The US shifts a lot of the drudge work to legal and illegal immigrants. This has its advantages and disadvantages too. It can be a spiffy foot in to the US for an immigrant, and the US ends up exporting huge amounts of cash via immigrants sending remittances back home. It is nice for American consumers during the good times as it keeps goods cheap.

    The real danger of this system is that it promptly breaks when then economy breaks. You are cool with a Mexican doing your shit work when you have good work. You are much less cool with a Mexican doing shit work when you are desperate for any job and will do the shit work yourself for a higher wage… which companies wont pay because they have people that will take a lower wage and are also going through rough financial straights. It sucks for the immigrants too. They tend to be the first ones shed when things turn south.

  3. Perhaps President Obama will include “vastly increased robot manufacturing” in his plan to create new American jobs. We’ll then sell the robots to other countries (obviously) (and after we input our top secret program for world domination).

  4. Maybe it is because the robots like it better in Japan, as in general they are treated better there.

  5. Is a washing machine not a robot? Any moving hardware controlled by programable software is a robot.

  6. I think this really illustrates the U.S.’s abandonment of manufacturing, and why it will be hard to recover this economy unless there is more investment in that area. Everyone standing in a circle serving hamburgers to each other just doesn’t generate much real wealth.

  7. Robot dentistry?
    Why would anyone give a robot teeth? Oh, wait…you mean robots which replace dentists?

  8. Here is an executive summary of IFR’s World Robotics report. Note also that personal robotics will reach $15 billion in sales by 2015, eclipsing the industrial market.

  9. I suppose the graph of countries where people named “Sarah Connor” are most likely to live would be the inverse.

  10. My fellow Americans, we have work to do. Ask not what your country can do for you, but how many sweet-ass robots you can build for you country.

  11. Interesting Regional Averages chart…

    In event of Robot Overlords scenario:

    In the industrial Asia/Pacific, one stands a good chance of survival by running away from the manufacturing centers. In Europe, ‘running to the countryside’ will probably mean colliding with malevolent ex-urban robo-factories. *g*

  12. The information is a little misleading when you mix together developed and undeveloped countries just because they are in the same region.

  13. What qualifies as a robot in this survey? Is it any sort of automation, or is it only the traditional pick and place arm?

  14. I am not surprised at all that Japan has the densest population of robots in the world. Welcome, robot overlords!

  15. I really want to see the density broken down by category of robot (or type or job function), ie. sexbot… Cause Japan is going to be #1, 2 and 3 on that one…

  16. Would be more useful if the graph showed us the population density of robots in disguise. I hate when my VW Bug turns out to be an alien automaton.

  17. This has a lot to do with the definition of “robot”:

    Japan has a very broad definition and calls pretty much anything a robot. A CNC-machine is considered a robot in Japan, it is not in most other parts of the world.

    The only number I found for this: in 1983, there were 47000 robots in Japan, of which only 3000 were considered being a robot according the German definition “VDI 2860”.

  18. A little less noise, please. With Japan seemingly ripe for robot domination, I’m trying to implement Skynet, and the code is quite tricky to write…

  19. yeah, if only milsatcom command and control code was that easy…
    and it’s all in ada dammit…
    total robot domination of nippon Real Soon Now…

Comments are closed.