Robots Lead to Increased Mortality

Academic researchers have published a paper claiming that the increase in mortality among adults in the U.S. is the fault of robots.

Increase in mortality rates

There is evidence that there were more deaths in 2021 than in 2019, but nearly all of those excess deaths were caused by the pandemic. Life expectancy also fell in 2020, and the CDC is calling out opioid overdoses and COVID-19, with lesser effects from increases in homicide and alcohol use.

But the researchers from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania have another culprit in mind: automation.

Their journey begins with a claim that increasing automation caused the loss of good manufacturing jobs. Ignoring offshoring, they calculate that robots took somewhere between 420,000 and 750,000 manufacturing jobs in the 1990s and 2000s.

They looked at the implementation of automation in various communities during that time and used death certificates to figure that every 1 robot per 1,000 workers led to 8 additional deaths (among men ages 45-54) per 100,000 people in the community.

“Our analysis shows that automation exacts a toll on the health of individuals both directly — by reducing employment, wages, and access to healthcare — as well as indirectly, by reducing the economic vitality of the broader community,” they said.

Killer robots

The researchers found that automation caused “deaths of despair” — suicides and drug overdoses. But they also attributed increases in deaths from cancer, homicide, and heart disease to automation.

Here’s their formula:

ΔYi, j,r,t1 − t0 = α1 × ΔAutomationj,r,t1 − t0 + β × BaselineCharj,r,t0 + θr + ei, j,r,t , (1)

We confess that this doesn’t mean a whole lot to us. The researchers found statistically significant results only for men from 45 to 54. Among men 30-44, automation seemed to lead to an increase in homicides. Heart disease among men 50-64 increased with automation.

Correlation, it seems to us, is not causation.

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