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Robotics IT

As Robots Move Into Amazon's Warehouses, What's Happening To Its Human Workers? (brisbanetimes.com.au) 237

An anonymous reader writes: A 21-year-old Amazon warehouse worker has been replaced by "a giant, bright yellow mechanical arm" that stacks 25-pound bins. "Her new job at Amazon is to baby-sit several robots at a time," reports the New York Times, "troubleshooting them when necessary and making sure they have bins to load... [T]he 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." Even though Amazon now has over 100,000 robots, they still plan to create 50,000 new jobs when they open their second headquarters. "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," said Martin Ford, author of the futurist book Rise of the Robots. "Maybe we wouldn't be getting two-day shipping."

Amazon's top operations executive says they're saving less-tedious jobs for the humans who work as "pickers" and "stowers" for the robots. "It's a new item each time," Mr. Clark said. "You're finding something, you're inspecting things, you're engaging your mind in a way that I think is important." The Times reports that the robots "also cut down on the walking required of workers, making Amazon pickers more efficient and less tired. The robots also allow Amazon to pack shelves together like cars in rush-hour traffic, because they no longer need aisle space for humans, [meaning] more inventory under one roof, which means better selection for customers."

"When Amazon installed the robots, some people who had stacked bins before took courses at the company to become robot operators. Many others moved to receiving stations, where they manually sort big boxes of merchandise into bins. No people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon found new roles for the displaced workers, Clark said... The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?"

As Robots Move Into Amazon's Warehouses, What's Happening To Its Human Workers?

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  • Soon we don't need humans in the world, everything can be done by robots.

    We are already surpassing the world that's depicted in the TV series Max Headroom.

    • I plan on being a Blank. Maybe I'll even start my own pirate radio station.

    • Yes and this is scary. How much time before A.I. will do desk jobs and robots will do manual labor. What with us then? We will all get universal income? On what basis will it be based? Dream version is we will all do what we would love to do. Carpenting or art, sounds great. Still there is a lot of discussion around this soon, otherwise it will get us by a storm and that is never good.
      • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @10:18AM (#55173867) Homepage

        A lot of desk jobs don't even require any kind of AI. There are tons of desk jobs out there where people just copy information from one system to another. Or they follow a set of predefined rules about what to do when something happens. They could have been replaced a decade ago with a simple program, but businesses are slow to change. These jobs are slowly being fazed out, and there will be a lot of job losses to office workers who simply aren't actually doing anything that a simple computer program can't replicate. There are side cases that a simple computer program can't handle, but you only need a few workers to click a few buttons and make a decision when the side case arises and then the automation can continue.

        There's a lot of stuff floating around about how accounting used to be a very lucrative profession, but due to computer systems finally becoming mature, a single person can do the work of 10. There will still be jobs for accountants, you won't replace them completely, but you'll need a lot less accountants, and it will be hard for those just graduating to find a job, as they don't have the experience necessary for the high level jobs that remain.

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        If it actually ever hits that point of "robots doing everything." You won't need basic income, the monetary system will be broken. Society would need a new way to calculate wealth.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Wealth is ownership of the means of production. That won't change.

          What will change is what counts as bling to impress the neighbors, and that will be the source of many new jobs as I somehow doubt that anything mass-produced will have social clout.

          • I somehow doubt that anything mass-produced will have social clout.

            Apple iDevices or even high-end Android phones tend to have a certain status associated with them, so I'm not sure how true this actually is. Maybe custom handmade cases become a thing, but I don't see mass production reducing social value, at least not so long as a Steve Jobs type is there to tell everyone how beautiful the product is.

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              That's because they still cost a bunch, which ultimately means there are a lot of jobs in the creation of them (not just the assembly in China, but everything up to that point). Handbags might be a better example here - unlimited prices not related to costs.

              Yeah, there will always be money in fashion - convince people X is fashionable and limit the supplt of X, and you can charge a lot for it. That won't change. But I suspect there will be a large market for both "tell me what's fahsionable" and "design

    • Soon we don't need humans in the world, everything can be done by robots.

      Including the purchasing and wearing-out of the products. Yeah, I read that story by Frederik Pohl as well.

      https://archive.org/stream/galaxymagazine-1954-04/Galaxy_1954_04#page/n7/mode/2up

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 )

      I just hope someone invents a robot that can buy all the stuff that robots are making. Otherwise, I think the system might have a fatal flaw.

    • Soon we don't need humans in the world, everything can be done by robots.

      We are already surpassing the world that's depicted in the TV series Max Headroom.

      The smartest robot in the world is still dumber than an amoeba. We have a long way to go before AI can replace people. AI is mostly well defined problems and pattern recognition. Even something as trivial as "unpacking and sorting a box" like in the summary is impossible for robots currently. With the slight exception of vacuuming, there is almost no task in the home that can currently be automated. Cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, putting away laundry, cleaning the toilet, putting dishes away, pick

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        The smartest robot in the world is still dumber than an amoeba. We have a long way to go before AI can replace people. AI is mostly well defined problems and pattern recognition. Even something as trivial as "unpacking and sorting a box" like in the summary is impossible for robots currently.

        I agree with you on the home scale... on the industrial scale? Take a look at Amazon Robotics Challenge 2017 and compare them to Amazon Picking Challenge 2015 to see how rapid progress is. Odd assortment of about 30 things where half was revealed shortly before the test, winners can now pick up about 90% of them mostly through a combination of suction cups and grabbers. That's hard things, soft things, odd shapes, transparent items, items with holes etc. you can look at a screenshot here [ytimg.com] you can see they're

        • by Falos ( 2905315 )

          >it doesn't have to be super fast
          >the cost estimates for the picker were around $25k

          This is the dam holding the lake. 25k is probably dramatized, the upfronts are still significant, esp when you include the disruption that comes with large changes, deployment. It's pretty much the only hesitation.

          And if we could authoritatively say "this is as good as it gets" they'd have already signed huge contracts. The per-hour rate is obscenely delicious, even for "slow" models, as you estimate. Paying humans means overhead and unpredictability, throw them out and your metrics and dexterity will be li

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        The problem here is that many things that we thought required intelligence do not actually do so. For example, driving under normal conditions is one such thing. A lot of administrative work qualifies. Not today, to be sure, but in the next 10-30 years, much of this work will be automatized. Sure, there will still be quite a few people that will have work, as some things do need intelligence and there is nothing even on the distant horizon that will give machines intelligence. (A senior member of the IBM Wa

    • You are wrong sir. Humans who don't quality to repair the robots can still fill a valuable role. As fuel for the robots. Until all of the humans have been harvested.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Actually, we will need something like 5-10% of the population to still work, but for the rest we will need to find ways to get money to them for buying stuff, and, as a society, we will need to find ways for them to feel useful, at least for most. Many people unfortunately go off the rails when they do not have something (apparently) useful to do.

      An UBI will only solve the first problem, but not the second one. It will probably be the largest challenge western society has ever faced.

  • by amorsen ( 7485 ) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Monday September 11, 2017 @03:47AM (#55172761)

    The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?

    Right now productivity growth in the first world is less than 3%. Much less, in many places. The answer to the above question is "very, very little".

    That is a sad thing, because it means we will not be significantly richer in the future. Economists right now are assuming that the future will be much richer, and therefore better able to deal with climate change and other pollution -- which means we do not need to worry as much about that now.

    So bring on the robots! We need humans to stop doing trivial jobs and start really improving the lives of everyone.

    • Those "jobs" about improving the lives of everyone are likey not profit generating. The economy is weak, so it is harder to afford luxuries, which those jobs would provide. No consumers buying luxury improvements for quality of life, means no profits. No profits, no jobs. No jobs, no profits.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        100 years ago, when work was horrible, the dream was that automation would let people work less, ideally not at all. Now that the dream might become reality, the reaction is "Oh my god, our existence is _based_ on work! How dare they suggest we change!" Why don't we spend more time talking about how this might be made into a good thing, instead of shouting about how bad it is destined to be?

        • by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @07:27AM (#55173163)
          Because the only way this becomes a good thing is for the owners of the automation to give up wealth to the people with no work, and it's already clear that isn't going to happen without some bloody revolution.
          • Because the only way this becomes a good thing is for the owners of the automation to give up wealth to the people with no work, and it's already clear that isn't going to happen without some bloody revolution.

            /facepalm

            That is EXACTLY what is going to happen, and no revolution necessary. Automation makes nice things cost less. When owners of automation produce nice goods at a low cost, they are giving up wealth.

            Your assumption here is that nobody would ever have any work to do, thus they couldn't afford anything, but you can't see the big flaw in it: If nobody could afford anything at all, then what is automation producing, and for whom, exactly? That reality simply couldn't exist. Automation is a good thing, whe

            • Social services will fail way before companies stop having people to sell to, because the middle class will be gone and we all know the wealthy have a limit to the amount of taxes they will want to way. Once people are starving on the street, that's when things will start to get dicey.
              • That's not what happens. In the early 1900s a few billionaires controlled large industries and artificially kept wages low. Henry Ford offered a substantially higher wage at his factories. Those wages were closer to the actual productivity of the workers, thus creating a feedback loop where the workers were able to afford the cars his factories were producing, and the increased sales produced more work for them and more wealth for Ford. (If workers are already being paid the right amount for their produc
                • Henry Ford offered a substantially higher wage at his factories. Those wages were closer to the actual productivity of the workers, thus creating a feedback loop where the workers were able to afford the cars his factories were producing, and the increased sales produced more work for them and more wealth for Ford.

                  I see this narrative a lot, but it doesn't stand up to basic math. If the sole source of income for Ford workers is from Ford then there is no "feedback loop", it would be impossible for Ford to make enough money off the extra car sales to pay for the wage increase. The reason Henry Ford increased wages was for worker retention, not so they could buy his cars. Before the wage increase, his employee turnover rate was 370%. So to maintain his workforce of 13,000-14,000 he would need to hire more than 50,0

          • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
            Why is it that everyone on slash seems to think the solution to all of the world's problems is for someone else to give up their money?
            • by Kohath ( 38547 )

              It's not everyone. They're in a few categories:
              - The entitled. Their greed is simply unchecked by any normal sense of decency, like a very young child's.
              - The haters. They hate and want to hurt the people they hate by bullying and stealing. They might as well be Klan members.
              - The useful idiots. They believe storytellers. Make up a story about robots taking all the jobs and they believe it -- even though there are a 1000 historical examples that prove these problems are temporary and almost everyone a

              • Please name a time in history when robots were capable of replacing 80% of the educated jobs that people do, and 100% of the uneducated jobs. I'd like to know exactly what period you are comparing to here, perhaps then we can have an intelligent conversation.
                • by Kohath ( 38547 )

                  Never. Not now. Not then. Not tomorrow. It's a fictional scenario.

                  Or, to state an actual transition, when farming was mechanized. It happened over a couple hundred years. It wasn't a "time in history". People adjusted.

            • Because money is the medium of economic commerce, and if people cannot get money they cannot acquire goods or service that are necessary to live.

              A better question would be, why do people who have more money than they can ever spend in several lifetimes continue on hoarding more of it. Does this dragon fever really drive the economy or make the world a better place?

              Capitalism only works to a certain point before it begins to breakdown. The best example would be the Roman Empire, as it is well documented and

              • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
                Why do people who don't have money think they have a right to someone else's? Which of the two is the most selfish?
                • Money is a social convention, like the rule of law people respect because they choose too. You act like money is a limited resource or a physical possession that somehow no one can ever take away.

                  Lets try another way, lets say we don't take your money but we print out $1 billion dollars for every man,woman and child. Would that satisfy you? Now you don't have worry about any taking your money that you may or may not have earned. Is printing a large amount of money stealing? No, then you should have no p

                  • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
                    Thanks for including me with the ranks of the rich! I wish I were, but I'm firmly in the middle class. Redistributing my money won't help much!

                    Surely you understand inflation? If you gave everyone $1billion in printed money, bread would probably cost $1million/loaf.

                    I happen to believe that society works better in the long run when everyone has something to strive for; when goals are set and reached, when one struggles and succeeds. I think redistributing wealth (of whatever kind) in a massive way woul
                • Well I didn't say people have a right to money, however, I do believe it is a government's responsibility to ensure that people have a reasonable opportunity to fill a role in order to make money to survive. That is what is at stake here.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > We need humans to stop doing trivial jobs and start really improving the lives of everyone.

      The problem is, companies are highly focused on the first part but the second part isn't their problem.

      I like the principle behind this (greater efficiency/productivity) and the assumption of a better overall economic result because of it, but what the article leaves out are the uncountable numbers of local retail workers that are destined to be laid off as Amazon and similar automated/consolidated warehouse oper

    • That is a sad thing, because it means we will not be significantly richer in the future.

      Based on what? The whole world has been getting more wealthy since the industrial revolution. The average first world person lives like a king would have lived 150 years ago.

    • by liquid_schwartz ( 530085 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @11:10AM (#55174167)

      Right now productivity growth in the first world is less than 3%. Much less, in many places. The answer to the above question is "very, very little".

      Since productivity has been decoupled from wages for the 99% does it matter? It's now a measure of how fast the 1% will grow as the 99% won't see any gains anyway. The only way the 99% will see any gains is to stop squabbling over trivial social issues that impact just this side of nobody (ie a dozen transgenders in the military) and start worrying about economics that impact hundreds of millions of people. It's not hard, just turn off your TV and ask yourself is your life easier or harder than you parents and grandparents.

    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      Right now productivity growth in the first world is less than 3%. Much less, in many places. The answer to "What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?" is "very, very little".

      As far as total productivity and wealth in the first world, we don't need much growth to provide for everyone. We just need better distribution. If you spread the wealth and GDP of the US evenly you have about $300k of net worth and $57k GDP per capita (including children). That is plenty for everyone to have a high quality life. If robots really do put 50% of first world citizens out of work, there is still enough wealth for everyone without any real increase in productivity.

      Figuring out how to accomplish

  • Umm. No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @03:49AM (#55172765)

    So...
    What happened to the jobs at the retailers that are replaced by Amazon supply chain (ie, working in the bricks and mortar)..
    What happens to the workers at Amazon who get displaced by robots after their work force is saturated? When they are not experiencing growth?

    I didn't realise that Amazon employed a PR writer called 'Anonymous reader'.

    • by lordlod ( 458156 )

      What happened to the jobs at the retailers that are replaced by Amazon supply chain (ie, working in the bricks and mortar).. What happens to the workers at Amazon who get displaced by robots after their work force is saturated? When they are not experiencing growth?

      Half of them run around breaking windows.
      The other half get jobs fixing broken windows.
      The second group subsidises the first.

      Seriously this kind of useless labour is a cost to society, it can and will be invested where it delivers a greater good.

      Putting a human face on it, people get more meaningful careers where they aren't a replaceable piece of labour doing a job so intellectually unchallenging that a basic robotic arm could replace them.

      • Re:Umm. No. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @06:50AM (#55173081) Journal
        There are three issues conflated in this debate:

        First, the economic value of particular forms of work. If someone is doing work that can be done cheaper by a machine (or which provides no value and can be simply avoided entirely by making workflows more efficient) then there is a benefit to the economy as a whole from automating or eliminating that job.

        Second, there is the degree to which labour is used to redistribute capital. In a capitalist system, working is the primary mechanism by which capital flows from those that are born rich to those that are not. Those born poor often have less access to education and so are less likely to be qualified for high-skill jobs. There are basically three options regarding these people: you give them jobs that allow them to acquire capital, you round them up or kill them, or you wait until they turn up at the doors of those who have accumulated disproportionate amounts of wealth with pitchforks and flaming torches, then you reset the system with a different set of rulers.

        Finally, there's the social and psychological effect of doing productive work. Humans are social animals and doing work that is of value to others helps encourage social cohesion.

        Economists tend to look solely at the first, politicians primarily at the second.

        • If someone is doing work that can be done cheaper by a machine (or which provides no value and can be simply avoided entirely by making workflows more efficient) then there is a benefit to the economy as a whole from automating or eliminating that job.

          That's only true if the economy needs that person to do another job. If not, then there's no benefit to automating them away.

          • Good news, then. People in general's desires are virtually unlimited and there is literally an unlimited amount of work out there for someone to do once it becomes economically efficient to do it because other jobs have been automated away.

            Once we've built things to take advantage of even just this solar system's contents and everyone in the world has all the services they can use, then get back to us on your anthropomorphing of "the economy" to not need people.

            People need other people to do things for them

            • People in general's desires are virtually unlimited and there is literally an unlimited amount of work out there for someone to do

              You're making a bunch of false assumptions, and ignoring reality. The desires of people without money are irrelevant, and the trend is towards ever-greater concentration of wealth at the top. The less people have money, the less demand there is for work to be done, the less work gets done, and the worse the concentration of wealth gets.

              I might want a pony, but if I can't pay for it, then nobody is going to be able to make money selling it to me.

        • in the usa education is easy to get a loan for even with bad credit.

          • And how many 3-year-olds get a loan so that someone can teach them to read while their parents are working two jobs?
        • by thomn8r ( 635504 )

          then there is a benefit to the economy as a whole from automating or eliminating that job.

          No. The only entities that benefit are the shareholders of that particular company in the form of increased profits.

      • and the half breaking windows get free doctors in the jail / prison. and the other half are caped at 29 hours week / are listed as 1099's.

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Really? Ever listen to CSPAN's callin show on Saturday or Sunday mornings? I'm willing to bet most of this lot won't be acquiring meaningful careers anytime soon. Most are devoid of scientific understanding, basic probability and statistics eludes them. They are convinced there are a wealth of jobs just waiting to be unleashed by the Orange Headed Clown that will put them back to work with no additional education over their high school education required.

  • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:03AM (#55172789)


    We are The Amazon. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.
  • Won't be more jobs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:08AM (#55172801)

    Before someone comes in commenting how robots will create more jobs or at least equal jobs like in this instance, it won't. Robot mechanic and all the like might exist for a while, but the end result is always the same: save money by hiring less people per unit of productivity. Translation: less human jobs.

    Amazon (along with Walmart) is a perfect example of this as it kills of undoubtedly more middleman retail jobs than it ever created. More efficient organizations win in capitalism and efficiency the last 50 years always meant hiring less expensive westerners, whether that's H1Bs, China, outsourcing, or robots.

    Yes, people can be retrained. Really depending on age and openmindedness though. But robots can also retrained and in less time for certain things. Yes, tech opens avenues for job possibilities but those avenues have always been smaller than what they replaced. There were never as many elevator mechanics as elevator operators when the latter got replaced with self-operated push buttons. And what if we are coming to an end to our wants and needs (at least as current tech allows)?

    Economics wants to teach us that we have unlimited wants as a basic tenet. I don't think that's fundamentally true. We can have VERY BIG demands, but not unlimted. When I'm watching a netflix film I like, I can't sit there and realistically consume 3-4 other films simultaneously. When I'm there eating a pizza, I might want a few other foods, maybe in rapid succession, but there's a limit to how much I can stuff my mouth. For the most part, Human wants are basically tied to the mouth (food), genitals (sex) or other needs (sleep, keeping warm, etc) or ego. There is a limit to many of these not tied to the person's wallet but rather tech level. Replicators would eliminate many food and material needs but we're not there yet.

    But the overarching point is as needs are fulfilled, you can't always get jobs fulfilling higher needs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Some people simply won't pay for. Some because it's not a service or product that can be made. Some because the tech level isn't there - for instance 200 years ago Kings in tropical countries would have people fanning them with palm leaves. Did the lack of fans create jobs for fanners? Not really, most people just went around hot. Tech opens up previously unimagined conveniences for the rest of society, but jobs won't be one of them in huge amounts.

    • >Yes, people can be retrained. Really depending on age and openmindedness though. But robots can also retrained and in less time for certain things.

      Sure. More options for business. They will choose whatever is cheaper option.

      The only answer to technological progress vis-a-vis employment problem is 2000 years old: "bread and circuses". Free bread and free circuses for fired. In our days this must include shelter.

      • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @08:08AM (#55173299) Homepage Journal

        >Yes, people can be retrained. Really depending on age and openmindedness though. But robots can also retrained and in less time for certain things.

        Sure. More options for business. They will choose whatever is cheaper option.

        The only answer to technological progress vis-a-vis employment problem is 2000 years old: "bread and circuses". Free bread and free circuses for fired. In our days this must include shelter.

        >Yes, people can be retrained. Really depending on age and openmindedness though. But robots can also retrained and in less time for certain things.

        Sure. More options for business. They will choose whatever is cheaper option.

        The only answer to technological progress vis-a-vis employment problem is 2000 years old: "bread and circuses". Free bread and free circuses for fired. In our days this must include shelter.

        I'd like to think that we're (the world) smarter than that, and that we (the readers of this forum) are the smart people in the room.

        This is an impending problem, and one of the definitions of intelligence is that it is proportional to your planning horizon. We can see this as an impending problem, so let's anticipate the problem and fix it.

        Current theories of economics are flawed, being based on assumptions of "infinite" that are no longer true. Consumption isn't infinite, population growth isn't infinite (thankfully, for the sake of our resources), and as a corollary jobs aren't infinite. (Minor other corollaries too; for example, the market for your product isn't infinite.) Productivity rises at an exponential rate (3% growth compounded over time), and has doubled in about the last 40-ish years.

        Current theories of economics that extrapolate the past to the future are invalid. Referring to Luddites, sabotaging the looms, throwing your wooden shoes into the looms, or anything that says "it's been OK before, it'll be OK this time" are flawed because they rely on nothing but past performance to predict future behaviour, while future predictions rely on math and assumptions. It's the turkey believing that the farmer will continue to protect and feed it, because that's what the farmer has done for the turkey's entire life.

        Current measures of the economy are flawed because they don't include the welfare of the workers. Up to recently, measures of economy have been all about the productivity - the sum total of the profits of businesses, without regard to the welfare of the people. The economy is strong when profits go up. It's flawed because economics is clearly a loop: you need citizens with wealth to purchase products, and the math has to change to reflect that.

        Given these flaws in our economics, we need a way forward that doesn't predict in the collapse of civilization.

        I know there are at least 5 changes that might work, but it all starts with the smart people in the room.

        What changes can we come up with, and how do we encourage these changes?

        Without using words such as "only way", "doomed to", and "must".

        We need to make changes. How do we do that?

        • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @09:31AM (#55173609)

          I'd like to think that we're (the world) smarter than that, and that we (the readers of this forum) are the smart people in the room.

          I'd like to think that too, but I see a lot of evidence to the contrary. Don't get me wrong - I think a lot of the world, (and a lot of Slashdotters), are fundamentally "smarter than that". But 'fundamentally' is key here - the natural intelligence displayed by most of us has been co-opted and perverted to a greater or lesser degree by various kinds of propaganda, organized distractions, and other mechanisms that might best be described as (dare I say it?), 'mind control'.

          ... so let's anticipate the problem and fix it.

          Again, I agree. But even if we can get a majority to see what's coming, how do you propose we act? As far as I can tell, doing so will require changing the premises on which our economic system is based, followed by wholesale change of said system. Very powerful, resourceful, yet closed-minded entities will throw everything they've got behind maintaining the status quo which gives them power. And convincing enough of them to matter, that their own survival ultimately depends on them ceding a lot of their control and a lot of their wealth NOW, doesn't seem to be going very well. They've conned enough of the populace into admiring the emperor's new clothes that it's very easy to ignore those who point out that the emperor is buck naked.

          We need to make changes. How do we do that?

          Historically, changes on that scale happen via revolution. But even that is only a temporary solution. Old habits of thought, and the old lack of realization of how short-sighted our instinctive human survival mechanisms can be, soon reassert themselves; then the new systems start to look a lot like the old ones.

          For a fascinating view of just what we're up against in making the kind of change we need, check out Morris Berman's book 'Wandering God". It delves so deeply into the roots of who we are that at first glance it may seem beside the point I'm making; but in fact it's very much to the point of just about any discussion we have about changing our social, political, and economic structures.

        • Consumption isn't infinite

          It is only limited by our ability to hold. When I'm cleaning up the yard on my newly purchased galaxy, do you think the neighbors aren't going to want one of their own? Of course they will. You have to keep up with your neighbors, after all, and if you can, do one better.

          The human propensity to consume is infinite. We will consume everything we can grasp.

  • You can't stop progress, robots are so much better and cheaper (in the end) than using humans for a lot of things (especially factory/warehouse stuff). Even the people in those little cloting sweatshops will be replaced with robots, just now they have a robot that can actually do their work much faster and much more precise..
    So we have to deal with it, as many people will loose their jobs to robots and AI (yes even officejobs will be replaced). With the current rate of automation we are actually already to

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Don't worry, the free market and evolution will save us. Those who can't outperform the robots for the same energy expenditure starve. The following generations will be faster, more powerful, AND cheaper to house and feed than robots. Oh wait, robots don't get sick, so that generation will also be impervious to disease.

      See? The free market solves all, magically! /s

    • You can't stop progress

      Nonsense, the president of the U.S. is doing exactly that and is world famous for it.

      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        Nonsense, the president of the U.S. is doing exactly that and is world famous for it.

        It would be more accurate to say he is attempting to do that. It will be instructive to see how his attempts fail (and they will fail, since, ahem, you can't stop progress). At best he might become known as the president who managed to temporarily retard progress.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @07:05AM (#55173093)

      You can't stop progress, robots are so much better and cheaper (in the end) than using humans for a lot of things (especially factory/warehouse stuff).

      HA! If that were actually true then my job would be a lot easier. My day job is to run a manufacturing plant. I'm an industrial engineer as well as a cost accountant and I make these sorts of decisions regarding automation daily. Your estimation of the cost/benefit of automation is not even close to reality for all but a few corner cases. Robots only make economic sense when you are talking about relatively large unit volumes or certain types of high value precision work or very dangerous jobs. They are not always faster or better and they sure as hell are not always cheaper. Yes that includes "factory/warehouse stuff".

      Simple example. My company makes wire harnesses. There isn't a machine in existence that can automate a substantial portion of what we make for anything remotely resembling a reasonable cost. The machines that do exist to make some limited portions of what we manufacturing are either limited to fairly narrow jobs like lead making (cutting, stripping, and crimping wires) or ones that can do wider numbers of jobs cost literally millions of dollars each. Some specialty jobs they do faster or better but not nearly as many as you are probably imagining. To replace humans in general you will have to come up with a robot that is as trainable, as dexterous, and cheaper than a human. Good luck with that because we are no where close to that level of automation much less getting there for economically reasonable cost.

      With the current rate of automation we are actually already to late do handle the loss of jobs and how to figure out how we could give those people a better live.

      There is no data to support this assertion. Unemployment is well within normal ranges and showing no signs of changing. There has been no measurable long term displacement of workers by robots. What data there is shows that worker displacement is a result of poor economic and education policy, not automation. In places like the US the losses in manufacturing jobs are in reality a function of labor costs, not automation. What happened is the labor intensive [investopedia.com] jobs went to places with low labor costs. When politicians talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back what they are really promising (though they don't know it) is to lower wages to compete with places like China because that is the ONLY way those jobs are coming back. Do you really want people working for $1-2/hour?

      After WWII when the rest of the world was rebuilding for a few decades folks in the US had a remarkable run of economic prosperity in large part due to a lack of competition. Those days are gone and now the US and other prosperous countries are going to have to compete globally. If you think automation is the biggest threat to your economic prosperity then you are delusional. The biggest threat is the 50% of the world's population in Asia (esp China and India) who have been sitting on the economic sidelines for over a century. Now that China has woken up and India is threatening to do so the game is different. You can worry about automation killing jobs in the short run if you want but you are worrying about the wrong thing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I think you are absolutely right today, but that you're perhaps forgetting that tech doesn't move linearly.

        Robot solutions that today cost millions will at some point cost thousands.

        In my country, a company started selling cheaper and safer robot arms a few years ago. They can't carry as much as the robots at car manufacturing plants, and they aren't as fast. But they don't require a cage, they cost a fraction and the UI for programming them is much, much easier to work with.

        A week or so ago a relatively ne

        • I think you are absolutely right today, but that you're perhaps forgetting that tech doesn't move linearly.

          I'm not forgetting that at all. Economics isn't linear either. I think you might be confusing the economics of microchips and software for the economics of manufacturing which is very different. It is REALLY hard and expensive to make general purpose manufacturing devices produce non-trivial special purpose products in (relatively) small batches. The limitations aren't typically technical - they are economic and they are extremely hard to overcome in a vast number of cases.

          Robot solutions that today cost millions will at some point cost thousands.

          Some will. A lot will not. Y

  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:18AM (#55172835)

    "Maybe we wouldn't be getting two-day shipping."

    Yeah, and even with a Prime account I still don't get that half the time, which sucks because I specifically needed that for my wife's business.

    The videos are a bonus, however, some good original content.

  • Left unsaid is that turnover is high enough they can wait a few months and the excess workforce will leave, and their numbers won't be hired back because that number of human jobs is no longer necessary. A net number of jobs are lost yet noone was laid off. If they were paying $X to humans before, they aren't going to spend $X plus $Y in robot acquisition/maintenance/operating costs; the new X+Y will always be less than the old X (on paper at least) or else they won't pull the trigger. Thus, less total mone

    • Left unsaid is that turnover is high enough they can wait a few months and the excess workforce will leave, and their numbers won't be hired back because that number of human jobs is no longer necessary. A net number of jobs are lost yet noone was laid off. If they were paying $X to humans before, they aren't going to spend $X plus $Y in robot acquisition/maintenance/operating costs; the new X+Y will always be less than the old X (on paper at least) or else they won't pull the trigger. Thus, less total money goes to humans.

      It's not layoffs that are working the magic. It's the fact that amazon is growing at a decent enough rate that it can absorb the extra people. If amazon wasn't growing there would be no way that it could increase efficiency without laying people off.

  • by Freischutz ( 4776131 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:42AM (#55172891)

    The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?

    The same thing as the people that Martian Marine in 'The Expanse' ran into on her AWOL episode in the underbelly of New York? Young people brimming with optimism will put their name on a waiting list for vocational training only to find them selves 20 years later vegetating away on an absolutely minimal government subsistence stipend to keep them from rebelling while they wait for it to finally be their turn to get a slot in the vocational training program, a slot that will never come. Meanwhile the offspring of the elite get all the vocational training slots, cushy jobs and genetic enhancements. In a world like that I'd give pretty much everything for a one way ticket to Mars, The Belt, the Jovian Colones, the outer rim settlements or even a shit-hole mining colony on a rock in the Kuiper Belt. Failing this there is the future where the redundant workers will form an important component of Solyent Green. Let's hope it won't come to that.

  • They get fired (Score:5, Informative)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @04:57AM (#55172915)

    They are tools to enhance the wealth of the company. If other tools can do that better, other tools will be used.

    For this reason alone I never use the self-checkout at the supermarket. It is my (small) way of keeping some people making money at a job.
    I do this, because I know my job could be next. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly, because more people on the market means more people entering my field, means a higher supply and thus lower prices.

  • I just noticed that the worker is "21-year old". Let's forget for now that this worker was actually fired as a result of the automation. What is the real shame for this country in this case that teenagers do not have a fair chance on college education.

    Two fundamental principles that any civilized country should have vis-a-vis education should be:

    - Only the merits matter in acceptance (passing entrance exams, specific to each institution)
    - Instead of students paying the universities, the government should pa

    • Re:21-year old (Score:5, Informative)

      by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @09:51AM (#55173715)

      I just noticed that the worker is "21-year old". Let's forget for now that this worker was actually fired as a result of the automation.

      No need to forget that she was actually fired, because she wasn't actually fired at all. I know that pretty much all slashdotters don't RTFA, but it's right there in TFS: Her new job at Amazon is to baby-sit several robots at a time," reports the New York Times, "troubleshooting them when necessary and making sure they have bins to load."

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @06:37AM (#55173057)

    The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?

    The same thing that happens with every other kind of automation. The people will be more productive and some will find new jobs. What is it with all the chicken-little articles about automation? There is plenty of valuable work to be done no matter how much automation we have. Yes some people will be displaced in the short term and for some that will be uncomfortable. It is highly unlikely to occur at a rate detrimental to the economy at large. Most of the automation will simply make workers more effective at their jobs. The very device you are reading this on (a computer) is nothing more than a form of automation which has made you more productive and increased opportunities. This dystopian notion that automation will cause mass unemployment is just nonsense spouted off by people who don't actually understand automation or the problems surrounding it. Automation is not going to be the grim reaper for jobs. Bad economic policy and bad education policy is what you should worry about. A second rate education system or a poorly controlled economy will kill jobs FAR faster than any amount of automation you could possibly imagine.

  • Soylent Green I hear is hiring ALOT of entry level people. They can't seem to get enough warm bodies through the door.
  • The Bigger Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The bigger questions is, what is happening to all of the human workers at the thousands of businesses Amazon is putting OUT of business with its dumping practices?

  • by Bender Unit 22 ( 216955 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @07:32AM (#55173177) Journal

    Stacking bins on pallets that goes out to the supermarkets for all those items that does not require refrigeration.
    The software knows the layout of the supermarket so the bins that ends up on top, are for those shelves closest to the back entrance and the ones at the bottom are furthest away.
    The arm that stacking the bins, are getting them in the right order from the automated warehouse holding the bins.
    Humans are (still) involved packing the bins with goods from other bins and pallets from a larger automated warehouse.
    The area where goods are moved by humans are a decreasing area for pallets moved by forklifts controlled by humans, but they are just following orders on a screen so they are not making any decisions at all. And more and more of the pallets are in a fully autoautomated warehouse.

    In the beginning there were some problems that require humans to see it, and who knows perhaps it still exists. The human controlled forklifts told us that they sometimes got an order to move the same pallet multiple times in a few hours between storage locations. So the system was kinda doing defragmentation until everything was placed like it wanted it to be. :)

  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @07:46AM (#55173229) Homepage
    Usually the only companies installing industrial robots are ones that are expanding, and an expanding company will rarely lay-off workers when they install automation because they always have something else for the employee to do. Of course an expanding company installing automation will likely be more efficient than an established company, so it's that other established competitor that eventually downsizes and cuts jobs. So you rarely see robots directly replace people. It happens in aggregate across industries and across the economy as a whole.
    • reminds me of automation of the early 1900's .. I mean real auto-mation. Back then you needed horseshoers, and people to do feed and tack. You had to have someone to help get the horses bridled to the cart before you even started your delivery run. Then cars came along. The amount of people that lost their good paying horse related jobs is probably staggering but it happened.
      • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @10:17AM (#55173861) Homepage
        I actually work at a factory (doing automation). There are some interesting facts I've noticed. We have a lot of manual laborers, but of all the people in the company, they're paid the least and they work the *least* overtime. In fact, overtime percentage seems to correlate highly with base pay rate, so if someone is a skilled trade and makes $30 an hour, they're asked to work a lot more overtime than someone making $15 per hour as a laborer. Yet it's the laborer that mostly wants overtime, because they make so little money. The company doesn't want to do it because (a) their pay is directly related to product cost and they need to keep direct labor rate low, and (b) they get paid less because they don't bring much value to the table. Sure, there's more jobs for skilled trades when you bring in automation, but all of these laborers eat lunch in the same room as the skilled trades, and they know that they could go to a community college for 2 years (and we're in Canada where education doesn't cost as much as in the US), then do an apprenticeship for 2 years, and they'd be making double what they make now, and hardly anyone's doing it. We're constantly complaining that we can't find enough skilled trades, and we're complaining that the laborers need so much hand-holding to do even the simplest tasks. So the idea that these laborers could go do something else when they're replaced by robots... I just don't buy it. Unskilled laborers working on farms went to work unskilled labor jobs in factories making cars. A guy shoeing horses knew a skilled trade, so they could probably do another job. If you get rid of all the unskilled labor jobs everywhere, what are those people going to do?
        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          If you get rid of all the unskilled labor jobs everywhere, what are those people going to do?

          Learn a skill? UBI is a long way off (if ever). So stop waiting for it.

          The reason that the higher paid workers tend to make more than the lower is that their work is more varied and not as easily scheduled as that of the low skilled workers. Jobs filling boxes are easy to plan. Fixing broken robots needs to be done 24x7 by on-call workers. So they make the big bucks.

  • "The wars of the future ... will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."

    Video [youtube.com] (24 secs)

  • As robots move into Amazon's warehouses, what's happening to its human workers?

    Ever watched Robot Wars or Battlebots? Same thing, but with a lot more blood. And all fights will soon be available on Amazon Prime!

  • I have a couple of family members that have worked at the Amazon warehouse in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

    These are good paying low-skill jobs with benefits and flexible hours. I asked what it's like to work there, and they describe most of their time walking from place to place, pulling things from bins and moving them into other bins. It's not uncommon for them to hit 15-20K steps per day. That's a lot, even if you are used to it.

    One of them worked at Nashville's UPS facility and used it for comparison. H

  • Robots are serving as a force multiplier instead of a force replacer? This is how things should be done. Bravo! Now it's time to read the article and see if I'm still happy by the end...
  • by p51d007 ( 656414 )
    After hearing countless reports that people are underpaid, overworked, working conditions etc, you'd think people would be happy to have robots replace the humans, so they don't "suffer".
  • We will always need humans to supervise the robots, deal with unexpected situations that the robots can't figure out, etc. We can pay to train and pay those humans more since the work done is significantly larger than what they could do alone.

    And there are a lot of other areas that Amazon can do better at, like quality control and developing stable, consistent products. Importing tons of cheap Chinese items may have expanded Amazon's listings dramatically, but it has also resulted in buyers being unsure o

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