FoxConn Is Building an “Empire of Robots”


Chances are, if you’ve heard of the Chinese technology giant FoxConn, it’s because it manufactures the iPhone and iPad. Last year, at an iPhone manufacturing complex in South China, there were a number of worker suicides that made news.

In apparent attempt to fix some of its labor issues, Foxconn’s parent company, Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry, is now making a big push into robots.

From the AFP:

The project, which is initially forecast to cost the Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Tw$6.7 billion ($223 million), was unveiled Saturday when Terry Gou, chairman of the conglomerate, broke ground for the construction of a research and development unit in Taichung, central Taiwan.

“The investment marks the beginning of Hon Hai’s bid to build an empire of robots,” the Central Taiwan Science Park authorities said in a statement.

Foxconn’s first client will apparently be itself. 

Foxconn, hit by a spate of suicides at its Chinese plants, plans to replace 500,000 workers with robots in the next three years, official media earlier reported.

Foxconn — the world’s largest maker of computer components, which assembles products for Apple, Sony and Nokia — plans to use one million robots to do “simple” work, China Business News quoted Gou as saying in August.

Assuming this whole robot thing catches on, how many Chinese who do “simple” work stand to lose their job to a robot over the next decade?

There’s more. From the Taiwan News Channel:

In addition to signing the pact, Gou also presided over a ground-breaking ceremony for an intelligent robotics technology research facility and the inauguration of a factory of Foxnum Technology Co., a Hon Hai subsidiary dedicated to development and production of automation equipment, at the central Taiwan high-tech park. 

Gou said Hon Hai will build an “intelligent robotics kingdom” in the park in the coming few years. The project is expected to generate an estimated NT$120 billion (US$4 billion) in production value in the next three to five years and create about 2,000 jobs, he added.

Is something getting lost in translation here? Or is language like empire of robots and intelligent robotics kingdom, purposefully dystopian?

[HT: Frank Tobe]

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  1. Nanno says:

    You know Taiwan is the Republic of China and mainland China is called the People’s Republic of China which doesn’t accept/acknowledge Taiwan’s sovereignty. So they’re just trying to create the Robot’s Republic of China in order to be less dependent.
    Don’t be fooled by terms such as empire and kingdom in Asia, in English we would probably talk about an “army of robots”, which probably would give them the same nerves. A kingdom arguably less likely to ‘move’ than an army would be.

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  2. Ray says:

    “Is something getting lost in translation here? Or is language like empire of robots and intelligent robotics kingdom, purposefully dystopian?”

    My robotic overlords assure me that these terms are much preferable to the originals: “robot army” and “SkyNet”.

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  3. Clancy says:

    I know that the suicides that happed at Foxconn might be the only story Americans have heard about it, (and when you consider the size of the company, it wasn’t an unusually high number of suicides) but there cannot possibly be a link between suicides and robots. The real story here is that wages in China are rising to the point where robots are cheaper than workers for many low-productivity tasks.

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  4. Mike B says:

    I’ve always lamented the fact that low cost human workers were undermining progress towards increased automation. It appears that this trend is finally going to reverse. Will be interesting to see the effect of increasing unemployment and income inequality on China’s vaunted “social harmony”. Better yet, since the developed world has already lost all the low skill jobs, if everything becomes automated there will be little cost differential between hi and low labour cost markets and we might actually start to get some higher skill production jobs back.

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  5. Dan Abrams says:

    This headline sounds remarkably like the plot of a bad science fiction movie.

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  6. Basil White says:

    How intelligent can we build assembly robots before they form a union?

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    • Pewlpit says:

      Or start worrying about the 99% of the 5%?

      For starting the dialogue and demanding answers we featured your concern at the Pewlpit in hopes of spawning a greater dialogue.

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  7. James says:

    There seem to be a couple of possible plusses to this. First, there doesn’t seem to be much economic benefit to doing robot assembly in China, then paying to ship stuff to the US, Europe, or wherever.

    Second, when the robots replace Chinese &c workers, maybe all the right-wing isolationists will stop complaining about evil big business exporting our jobs.

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  8. Horatio says:

    It is the liberal conundrum. These jobs are horrible and must be eliminated. Eliminating these jobs is horrible it puts people out of work.

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