Stanford University


Robert Seamans:
Robots at Work in China

Robert Seamans: Robots at Work in China
February 7, 2022
Virtual Event
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On Monday, February 7, 2022, Robert Seamans of New York University’s Stern School of Business joined Stanford Digital Economy Lab Director Erik Brynjolfsson for “Robots at Work in China,” our first Seminar Series event of 2022.


We construct a unique firm-level dataset to study the effect of robot adoption on productivity and employment in China. We find that robot adoption leads to higher levels of productivity and employment, on average. However, Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) do not exhibit the same productivity boost as private firms when adopting robots. We also find some evidence that: (1) Chinese SOEs don’t appear to hire the appropriate human capital necessary to take advantage of investment in robots and (2) Chinese SOEs don’t appear to make the investments in complementary assets needed to obtain productivity improvements. Moreover, these effects appear to be mitigated in conditions where market pressures prevail. To explain these results, we propose that SOEs lack the market-based incentives needed to identify and invest in the complementary assets necessary to take full advantage of robots. Our findings highlight the role that organizational forms and institutional settings can play in enabling and constraining the use of new technologies.

Joint project with Nan Jia (USC Marshall School of Business) and Qiren Liu (Guangzhou University)

About Robert Seamans

Robert Seamans

Robert Seamans is an associate professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business where he teaches courses in game theory and strategy. Professor Seamans’ research focuses on how firms use technology in their strategic interactions with each other, and also focuses on the economic consequences of AI, robotics and other advanced technologies. His research has been published in leading academic journals and been cited in numerous outlets including The Atlantic, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others. In 2015, Professor Seamans was appointed as the senior economist for technology and innovation on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

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