The face of the American worker is changing.
A robotic conveyor uses laser guides to sort through storage at industrial automation company Festo's distribution facility in Mason, Ohio. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In the American workplace, machines are no longer relegated to manual labor. High-powered computers and robots are increasingly taking over more complicated tasks — from bookkeeping to research — with alarming efficiency. Over the next 15 years, machines will likely replace truck drivers as self-driving vehicles become the norm, putting millions of people around the world out of a job.
Already, some 5.5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation since 1990. And the trend shows no signs of stopping: In the first quarter of 2017, American companies bought 32 percent more robots than they did in the same period last year.
Workers operate packaging stations that feed into an expansive system of conveyor belts connecting separate factory areas at a Festo distribution center, in Mason, Ohio. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
An assembly line laborer works across from a collaborative robot at Stihl Inc.'s manufacturing facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
But human work is far from obsolete. A 2013 study found just 5 percent of all jobs can be completely automated away. And while automation replaces certain kinds of jobs, particularly in manufacturing, it also generates others.
As robots grow in numbers, more humans are needed to operate and repair them. And the higher productivity of mechanized work can lower prices and increase demand in some industries, creating the need for more robots to increase output and thus more human labor to man them.
In the last seven years, American manufacturers have created almost a million new factory jobs, The Associated Press reports. As of this year, still 390,000 of them remain open. And experts estimate factories will add another two million jobs in the next decade, many of which will involve working alongside robots. The challenge will be equipping American workers with the more advanced skill sets needed for this new cyborgian partnership.
Below, take a tour of the new American factory:
Stihl Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A worker operates a collaborative robot at Stihl Inc. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
An 18-year-old apprentice at Stihl Inc. trains to become a "mechatronics technician," a job that requires both engineering and computer skills. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A robotic arm with a high-intensity blowtorch is remotely operated at the General Electric Aviation plant in Evendale, Ohio. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Festo distribution center in Mason, Ohio | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
An employee works on a factory floor at a Stihl Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia. | (AP Photo/John Minchillo)