As How Stuff Works notes, industrial robots have been on the factory floor since about 1961. Since then robots have taken over a lot of the tedious, repetitive, and often dangerous tasks that human beings used to perform. The result of the advent of industrial robots has been a marked reduction in cost and an increase in productivity. The Brookings Institute reported that robots had sparked a revival of manufacturing in America, with fewer factories being outsourced to countries in Latin America and Asia. Manufacturing employment has even seen a small uptick from the depths of the Great Recession, rising to 12.3 million jobs by 2016.

At the same time, 1.9 million industrial robots are estimated be in factories by 2017. But while productivity has skyrocketed, manufacturing employment has grown at a glacial pace.

The next stage of industrial robot technology is upon us, with machine learning, tactile sensing, and socially adept machines. Robots will learn new tasks by interacting with humans, taking over more work. Manufacturing employment is slated to start declining by 2022 as companies discover more ways to increase productivity and cut costs by automating. The phenomenon is likely to occur world-wide, even in countries where employment costs are far less than in the United States and Europe.

The phenomenon is bound to accelerate a seismic shift in employment that has already been ongoing away from manufacturing and toward other areas such as health care and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Governments have to start adjusting education and trade policies to avoid creating a permanent unemployed class which will become a drag on social services and a waste of human capital. Lack of manufacturing jobs have already affected American politics, becoming issues in campaigns of politicians as diverse as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Smaller firms, which do not enjoy the economics of scale, will also have to adapt. 3D printing technology, in which products can be created per order, will be one way that small business will be able to compete with huge manufacturing firms. For better or ill, industrial robots are here to stay, and humans have to adapt to remain prosperous.