Will robots steal your job? It's a common enough fear. And whether you think it's an actual possibility, the fact remains that in some places robots are taking jobs. But what can you do about it? Better yet, how can you profit if a robot steals your job?
Robots vs. humans
It's no secret that robots are playing an ever-increasing role in manufacturing -- indeed, this trend is expected to accelerate. But manufacturing isn't the only role that robots are invading. For example, DARPA's Robotics Challenge hopes to lead to the creation of a humanoid first responder, companies such as Hansen Medical (NASDAQ:HNSN) and Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) make medical-assisting robots that aid in complex surgeries, and defense heavyweights such as Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) make robots that are useful to the military. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
All of this leads us to ask, "What will happen to human employees as robots become advanced enough to take over even more jobs?" Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the center, believe that robots will lead to high unemployment. But the International Federation of Robotics argues that the increased use of robotics will lead to more jobs.
The big question
No one knows for certain what will happen to unemployment as robots become more advanced. The only thing we do know is that robots will become more commonplace. So how can you prepare? Perhaps one of the best ways is by investing in companies that specialize in robotics. Then, as they increase their revenue from robotic sales, your stock goes up. However, choosing a robotics company, which will do well, can be challenging. Some companies seem promising, only to crash and burn later.
Accordingly, one possible way to reduce the risk associated with investing in a single company is to invest in an ETF such as Robo-Stox Global Robotics & Automation ETF (NYSEMKT:ROBO), a stock index focused on robotics, automation, and related technologies.
Robots take over ETFs
Right now, Robo-Stox is the only ETF that's focused solely on robotics and automation-related companies. And while you do have to pay a management fee, it's currently priced at 0.95%, which basically means you'll pay $9.50 a year for every $1,000 invested. Plus, while the fund has been around since only late October, Frank Tobe, co-founder of Robo-Stox recently told The Motley Fool that Robo-Stox currently has almost $28 million in assets invested in "77 companies in accordance with a weighting and set of selection criteria" -- that's pretty impressive given how long the fund has been in operation.
Perhaps the best part of this fund? As Blake Bos, the Fool's industrials analyst, pointed out, Robo-Stox gives investors access to companies that are not on American exchanges, but are some of the biggest names in robotics. This includes, but is not limited to, Yaskawa Electric, Fanuc, and Kuka.
The robotics revolution
Robots aren't going away. In fact, as technology progresses, they could become as commonplace as today's cell phones. Indeed, Leila Takayama, a researcher at Willow Garage, a robotics company that builds hardware and open-source software, says that she hopes robots become "unremarkable" in society, and that "they're just so useful, just so faded into the background that we don't notice that they're there all the time."
That could either be great, or it could be disastrous. But one thing's certain: If you invest in the right robotics company, you could make a significant return on your investment as robots become more popular. However, if you'd rather mitigate the risk of investing in a single company, an ETF like Robo-Stox could be a great way to spread your investment over a wide range of companies. That way, if robots steal your job, hopefully you'll have a lucrative investment to fall back on.
Fool contributor Katie Spence owns shares of Northrop Grumman. Follow her on Twitter: @TMFKSpence. The Motley Fool recommends Intuitive Surgical and owns shares of Intuitive Surgical and Northrop Grumman. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.