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This chart shows why robots aren't about to steal all our jobs

There's been a lot of media discussion recently of robots taking humans' jobs. A Gartner report last year claimed that "one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025." Obviously it's impossible to know what will happen in the future. But one sign that robots aren't having much of an impact on the livelihood of workers today comes from this chart from the International Federation of Robotics:

International Federation of Robotics

The first thing to notice about this chart is that the numbers are tiny. Manufacturers shipped a record number of robots in 2013, but the total number of robots shipped worldwide — 178,000 — is surprisingly small. In a global labor market with billions of workers, that just isn't enough robots to have much of an effect.

The same is true if you focus on the United States. In North America, factories ordered 23,700 industrial robots in 2013, a tiny fraction of the 12 million workers in America's manufacturing sector or the roughly 1 million new workers the US economy adds each year.

The second thing to notice about this chart is the surprisingly slow growth of robot shipments. About 70,000 robots were shipped in 1995. After 18 years, the figure was only about 2.5 times larger.

The IFR predicts that growth is about to accelerate. It projects that robot shipments will reach 288,000 by 2017, which would represent an impressive 13 percent annual growth rate over four years. If that pace of growth occurred for a couple of decades, the world's workers could face a serious threat sometime in the 2030s. But right now, there just aren't enough industrial robots to have a significant effect on the job market.

Thanks to Jim Bessen for pointing out this chart to me.

Correction: This post originally misstated the number of robots sold in the US in 2013.