There’s an excellent article in the NY Times:
At the Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China, hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electric shavers. That is the old way.
At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human.
One robot arm endlessly forms three perfect bends in two connector wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to prevent the people supervising them from being injured. And they do it all without a coffee break — three shifts a day, 365 days a year.
All told, the factory here has several dozen workers per shift, about a tenth as many as the plant in the Chinese city of Zhuhai.
While it has taken longer for robot technology to be developed than many had thought twenty or thirty years ago, the technology is progressing, and if it robot factories are viable in 2012, they will only be that much better in 2022 and that much better gain in 2032.
This brings up the existential question of what low-IQ people are good for if robots can do manual labor just as well. If robots can manufacture electronic gadgets, and move stuff around a warehouse (the two main uses of robots discussed in the article), soon they will also be able to cook food at restaurants, do janitorial work, work in construction. Maybe we won’t need truck drivers in another ten or twenty years, because trucks will drive themselves?
The robot tipping point is probably being delayed because our best and brightest are going into finance and other value transference fields instead of working on developing better robot technology.