Amazon Pushes Automation, Workers Find New Roles (For the Moment…)

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The robots are making warehouse work less exhausting while enabling the efficiency needed to send all packages to customers. For the moment, no people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon always found new roles for the workers. But one should ask what happens when the future generations of robots arrive.


It has always been common for Amazon’s warehouse employees to stack plastic bins. Of course, it wasn’t the most interesting and stimulating activity. And lifting the 25 pounds’ bins for 10 hours every day was incredibly awful. But it’s completely different now as Amazon has added a yellow mechanical arm to the mix.

Nissa Scott started working at the Amazon warehouse in southern New Jersey late last year, stacking plastic bins. Now, she’s babysitting robots to make sure they do the job properly.

The robots are making warehouse work less exhausting while enabling the efficiency needed to send all packages to customers. Martin Ford, futurist and author of “Rise of the Robots” think that:

It’s certainly true that Amazon would not be able to operate at the costs they have and the costs they provide customers without this automation.

(Psst – guess what? you better believe there’s a bonus at the end of this post!)

Amazon possesses the most cutting-edge robots in terms of automation. They are currently using robots developed by Kiva Systems that Amazon bought for $775 million and renamed Amazon Robotics. Did you know that Amazon has now more than 100.000 robots operating all around the world? That does not mean they’re not hiring. In fact, Amazon has turned into a hiring machine. Let me show you the data:

Amazon’s global workforce is three times larger than Microsoft’s and 18 times larger than Facebook’s, and last week, Amazon said it would open a second headquarters in North America with up to 50,000 new jobs.

As you can see, the robots look like giant beetles and move around with merchandise weighing up to 3,000 pounds. Hundreds of them move autonomously inside a large caged area without colliding with each other.

Dave Clark, the top executive in charge of operations at Amazon, said that “the company wanted the machines to perform the most monotonous tasks, leaving people to do jobs that engage them mentally”.

“For me, it’s the most mentally challenging thing we have here,” Ms. Scott said of her new job. “It’s not repetitive”.

For the moment, no people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon always found new roles for the workers. But one should ask what happens when the future generations of robots arrive.

Amazon has added 80,000 warehouse employees in the United States since adding the Kiva robots, for a total of more than 125,000 warehouse employees. And it says the warehouse hiring spree will continue.

Amazon’s Mr. Clark said “history showed that automation increases productivity and, in some cases, demand from consumers, which ultimately creates more jobs. Warehouse workers would continue to work in technologically rich environments”.

My belief is that AI and Automation will cause mass unemployment. Although we work in tandem with machines for the moment, it will change in the near future. The moment when AI will get to human-level intelligence and attain the ‘crossover’ point (when it doesn’t need humans anymore to evolve), warehouse employees will not be needed anymore. I disagree with the statement standing that because automation has created new jobs during the industrial revolution, it will do the same today.

For instance, in a scenario where cheap and capable emulations or other digital minds gradually flood labor markets over a period of years, one could imagine mass protests by laid-off workers pressuring governments to increase unemployment benefits or institute a living wage guarantee to all citizens.

See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/10/technology/amazon-robots-workers.html


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