Many lower wage jobs are currently protected from automation primarily because technology cannot yet replicate a person’s ability to recognize and manipulate objects. That is changing, and once affordable robotic technologies begin to outperform people in tasks that require sophisticated hand-eye coordination combined with moderate-level decision making skills, millions of jobs will be at high risk.
Here are a couple of videos showing these technologies in action, along with articles at Singularity Hub:
The thing to keep in mind is that the capabilities of technologies like these will certainly accelerate over the coming decades. The degree of progress we see over the next ten years will be dramatically more than what we saw over the last decade. Moore’s Law, for example, would imply a factor of 32 increase (5 doublings) in general capability. There will also be dramatic cost reductions.
As soon as these technologies find their way into applications that offer a profitable economic trade-off vs. employing workers, they will be widely deployed. Competitive pressures will require this. The primary danger to the US economy will probably be when jobs in the service sector become heavily threatened. In countries like China, these technologies are likely to accelerate manufacturing automation and ultimately make it difficult to maintain employment as workers continue to migrate from rural areas to manufacturing centers.
Note that both videos are Japanese. Japan is on the leading edge of robotic and automation technologies. So far the unemployment rate in Japan has remained relatively low (although there are many underemployed workers), but this is largely due to regulation and social/cultural attitudes. The story in the United States— where businesses have complete freedom to slash their workforces—is likely to be quite different.