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An automation robot belonging to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization of the U.S. Navy. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David McKee)

The United States Lags Behind Global Peers in Preparing for Automation

The United States is lagging behind many of its global peers when it comes to preparing its citizens for automation and the jobs of the future, according to a recent report.

Despite being home to Silicon Valley and leading in many areas of tech innovation, the country ranks just ninth out of 25 countries analyzed in “The Automation Readiness Index,” a study published last month by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Swiss tech company ABB.

By contrast, the standouts across the globe are first-placed South Korea followed by Germany and Singapore in second and third place, respectively. Japan, Canada, Estonia, France, and the United Kingdom round out the top eight.

In the study, the authors attempt to quantify readiness for automation by breaking down various areas of each national economy and society. In a macro sense, it looks at innovation environment, education policies, and labor market policies to determine an overall score.

“The challenges and opportunities of intelligent automation require a robust policy response informed by multi-stakeholder engagement but, so far, both are lacking.”

“South Korea tops the index rankings thanks to a strong score across all three categories,” states the study. “Germany, Singapore and Japan — three countries that have demonstrated strong leadership on industry digitization — take the next three spots in the ranking. Japan’s performance is buoyed by a world-leading innovation environment, while Germany and Singapore take the top spot, joint with South Korea, for labour market policies.”

As with its overall standing, the United States ranked ninth in both innovation environment and education policies. It fares marginally better, coming in seventh, in terms of labor market policies.

EIU Automation

Source: The Automation Readiness Index, EIU / ABB


But the United States is far from alone when it comes to lagging behind. Most of the overall scores, which are measured out of 100, highlight how much work there remains to be done across the entire globe.

While the top three countries all received high marks (South Korea at 91.3, Germany at 89.6, and Singapore at 87.3), the scores drop off quickly. The United States earned just 72.0, while India, in 18th place, received 47.2.

In general — and worryingly for those who fear that automation will exacerbate global economic inequality — developing countries performed much worse in the analysis. While the 25 locations studied have an average score of 62.1, China and the United Arab Emirates are the only non-OECD nationsto score above that total (aside from the highly developed city-state Singapore).

By contrast, the other middle-income countries studied are lagging far behind the middle of the pack, including the likes of Malaysia (57.7) Argentina (51.7), Brazil (46.4), Colombia (44.7) Saudi Arabia (42.0), Mexico (40.7), Vietnam (37.3) and Indonesia (33.1).

In addition to quantifying the readiness of different nations, the report also offered several overarching findings about the future of automation, such as:

  • “The challenges and opportunities of intelligent automation require a robust policy response informed by multi-stakeholder engagement but, so far, both are lacking.”
  • “Middle-income countries will find adapting to automation tougher than others.” (“With the exception of China, there is a large gap separating high-income countries from those in middle- and lower-income brackets.”)
  • “Index leaders earmark considerable funding and other support to AI and robotics research.”
  • “Few countries have begun to address the impact of automation through educational policy.”
  • “Lifelong learning is becoming a rich area of experimentation.”
  • “In most countries, vocational training is not up to the challenges posed by intelligent automation.”

The overall message of the report is that automation is emerging rapidly and will be transformational to work, education, and society at large. And, so far, both federal governments and the bulk of stakeholder organizations within these nations thus far have not adapted to this future.

But although the report stresses that this delay is concerning the takeaway is also one of hope that the coming changes, while disruptive, can still bring about a better reality. It’s just that it will require a lot of of effort to get there — and the journey won’t be smooth.

“The report showcases the success pattern of the future,” said Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB. “We must take advantage of these recommendations … Augmenting human potential with technology, in a responsible way, while providing ongoing education and training, is an opportunity to drive prosperity and growth.”

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