Are Robots Cheap Labor?

Amazon’s humanoid warehouse robots currently cost $10-12 an hour to run. That’s less than human workers at Amazon. What’s more, Amazon figures it will be able to get the cost down to $3.00 an hour. That’s less than any human worker. “That won’t calm workers’ fears of being replaced,” Quipped Business Insider.

Robots are getting less expensive. Will that encourage businesses to let human workers go in favor of robots?

Why are robots cheaper than humans?

The cost per hour, as mentioned above, can be much lower for robots than for human beings. Add to that the fact that robots can usually perform tasks much faster than humans. Productivity is likely to be much higher and the labor cost per task therefore much lower than with human workers.

Consider also that robots can work around the clock without breaks. They don’t require vacations, meals, or safety procedures that might slow things down.

Robots can require maintenance, but health and safety procedures and benefits for humans are usually more costly than maintenance for robots.

Speaking of benefits, robots don’t need them. They also don’t require Human Resources departments, Social Security and other payroll tax contributions, coffee, or time-consuming human interactions and encouragement.

Robots can also reduce errors and wastage, providing further cost savings.

Costs keep going down

The initial cost for robots can be significant, but some robots are now priced in the thousands, not tens of thousands. Leasing and rental programs reduce the up-front costs further.

On the other hand, Bill Gates and others have proposed new taxes on robots. If companies pay the same taxes on robotic labor that they soon human labor, the cost of automation could rise.

So far, robots generally still need human workers to run them, monitor their work, and right them when they fall over. As robots become more skilled and incorporate more sensors, this should be less true in the future.

Jobs robots can’t do

Humans can still do some things that robots can’t. People are better at some tasks than robots, too. There are even some things — like sheep-shearing and laundry — that people do faster than robots.

We may be looking toward a future when humans are needed only for certain special tasks and robots are cheaper for most things.

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