This policy brief examines whether robots will reduce the familiar benefits of industrialization as a development strategy. It argues that robots are not yet suitable for a range of labour-intensive industries, leaving the door open for developing countries to enter industrialization processes along traditional lines. At the same time, it suggests that developing countries should embrace the digital revolution.
The digital revolution, particularly the rapid march of robot technology, is making people more anxious. This anxiety is rooted in the perceived threat of robots to upturn the world of work because they are getting exponentially smarter and more autonomous. Most of the current debate on robots focuses on developed countries, but robotization clearly also concerns developing countries. On some accounts, the risk of job displacement through robotization is particularly high in developing countries.
From a development perspective, the big question is whether robots will reduce the familiar benefits of industrialization as a development strategy. This will be the case if robot-based automation makes industrialization more difficult or causes it to yield substantially less manufacturing employment than in the past. Should such expectations turn into reality, the commitment to inclusive prosperity called for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be technologically subverted before it gets off the ground