Amazon Leverages Robotic Labor Alongside Humans
As AI technology and robotics advance and machines become more able to match –and surpass– human-level performance in an increasing number of tasks, many worry that the dawning automation revolution could decimate the job market as machines gradually replace human workers.
While theoretically no job or industry is immune form eventual usurpation by AI algorithms or hyper-efficient robotic workers, the ultimate fate of the human worker remains to be seen and much like the shifts seen since the industrial revolution, the changes AI may bring can take decades or generations to fully manifest.
One glimpse of the coming revolution can be seen in the massive factories that tech giant Amazon maintains in support of its retail operations. Join The New York Times for a fascinating peek behind the curtain into a cutting edge workplace where automation and robotics have already begun to supplement a traditional workforce.
Perhaps no company embodies the anxieties and hopes around automation better than Amazon. Many people, including President Trump, blame the company for destroying traditional retail jobs by enticing people to shop online. At the same time, the company’s eye-popping growth has turned it into a hiring machine, with an unquenchable need for entry-level warehouse workers to satisfy customer orders.
Amazon’s global work force 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.
Complicating the equation even more, Amazon is also on the forefront of automation, finding new ways of getting robots to do the work once handled by employees. In 2014, the company began rolling out robots to its warehouses using machines originally developed by Kiva Systems, a company Amazon bought for $775 million two years earlier and renamed Amazon Robotics. Amazon now has more than 100,000 robots in action around the world, and it has plans to add many more to the mix.
The dynamics between people and machines play out on a daily basis on the floor of Amazon warehouses in places like Florence, N.J., and Kent, Wash. In Kent, the robots vaguely resemble giant beetles and scurry around with vertical shelves loaded with merchandise weighing up to 3,000 pounds on their backs. Hundreds of them move autonomously inside a large caged area, tailgating each other but not colliding.