Will robots take over your job - or will they bump you into a new one?

Will robots take over your job – or will they bump you into a new one?

Listen to the third episode of POLITICO Tech’s multi-part podcast series on cybercrime below, and find the whole string here.

Baltimore – An instrumental ballet is played around the clock Every day in a vast building on the outskirts of Baltimore, a city with a long history as a logistics hub in itself.

Inside the complex, known technically as Amazon’s BWI2 Robotics Fulfillment Center, tower-like yellow robots on wheels deliver everything from Pringles cans to PG Wodehouse novels and maneuver the floor with uncanny precision. Cameras locate the goods and pin them around the factory at lightning speed. There are humans too, who make sure the device rings smoothly and everything goes into the right box.

When economists think about the future, and how robotics and automation are likely to shape not only business but our society and politics, they tend to think of buildings like this.

Amazon is the second largest recruiter in America, and one of the most aggressive in recruiting And the automation. BWI2 attachment Opened in 2015is part of the company’s efforts to ensure that its endeavor to become a global “store of everything” runs as smoothly and cost-effectively as possible.

The traditional way of talking about this is that robots take human jobs, which poses a huge problem to humans. However, Amazon says its bots help Create jobs, by allowing the company to expand ceaselessly to the point where it now employs more than 1 million Americans.

To illustrate the point, the company invited me, along with Politico’s Daniel Lippman and Brendan Bourdillon, to the warehouse, where we watched human workers play their part in the complex, interlocking fulfillment process that brings products from the “buy now” button to your door — and heard a lot about the company’s plans to continue Recruitment while investing more in automated innovation.

And if you’re wondering how quickly that landscape has changed: A few days after the visit, Amazon announced its new debut Robots “Sparrow” It is capable of performing the object-handling and identification tasks we’ve seen humans perform at the Baltimore facility.

I wondered what effect this would have on these people’s jobs, so I followed up with Scott Dresser, Amazon’s vice president of robotics. Dresser is optimistic — perhaps unsurprisingly — that even developments like the Sparrow are likely to continue to bring humans into Amazon facilities rather than evict them.

“We never had a vision of a fulfillment center without people because it’s not practical,” Dresser told me last week. He acknowledged that “the nature of what these people do tends to change,” which means employees need to be retrained, or “upskilled,” in industry parlance.

Speaking to Dresser and other Amazon employees at the plant, they described those upskilling programs as focused on getting fulfillment center employees more involved in maintaining and coordinating the robot systems that now handle much of the execution process.

“You don’t need a four-year degree to become a robotics maintenance professional,” Dresser said. “It’s part of how we design our systems — to be simple and easy to maintain, so it’s relatively easy to train someone on it in a few weeks to be proficient and possibly become a junior maintenance technician.”

If you step back, the picture looks a little less like “bots replacing people,” and more like robots driving an ever-changing set of work requirements that are essentially shaped around machine needs.

So what to do that mean for the economy? So, I contacted MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, who did it Automation lesson and the role it plays in the workforce, and asked him if he thought that despite these efforts there might be a tipping point in which technology would overtake the average worker and leave them in the dust without any amount of “skilling upgrading”. He didn’t have an answer to that exact question, but he noted that there are already signs of who may or may not benefit from the process.

“This discussion is framed around ‘will robots and AI destroy jobs, lead to a jobless future,’ and I think that is the wrong frame,” Acemoglu said. Industrial robots may have reduced US employment by half a percent, no small feat, but nothing on that scale. [of a “jobless future”] It happened — but if you look at the implications for inequality, it’s been massive.”

Acemoglu king Extensive search On Inequality and Automation shows that more than half of the increase in inequality in the United States since 1980 is related to at least one automation, stemming largely from lower wage pressure on jobs that could easily be done by a robot.

Amazon’s case is such that its nearly unparalleled size, not only as a retailer but as a sprawling technology and logistics operator in its own right, can withstand this pressure, as evidenced not only by its continued expansion but also Relatively high wages and perks compared to most low-skill jobs. And so far, for Amazon itself, it has worked.

“At least so far, they’ve been basically right,” said Marc Morrow, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The question is, will it stay this way forever?”

Morrow brought up another potential problem for Amazon’s global expansion ambitions, which can’t necessarily be automated away: the vagaries of the economy and consumer demand.

Achievement center is a different kind of equation [than traditional manufacturing],” he said. “Their size depends on growing consumer demand, and to the extent that it has been the case for most of the past decade, we’ve seen both continued hiring and accelerated automation. The question is, should we expect consumption to continue at the high level of the past decade? “

Amazon has already had a small version of this problem, as it admitted earlier this year Increasing the number of workers in its facilities To meet the high demand in the pandemic era. But when I asked Dresser whether he thought there was a consumer-imposed cap on what his team of robot wizards could do, he was confident again that they could stay one step ahead of the growth curve. In a way, Amazon clearly believes that robots can somehow survive market changes.

“I don’t see the equation changing…with the introduction of new robots, we see new scenarios come into play, and then we have to introduce new roles as we introduce robotic systems that work together in tandem,” Dresser said. “I don’t know if this hypothesis about change in growth applies here.”

Our cousins ​​at POLITICO Europe have a new package One of the stories released today is an exploration of the French tech giant-turned-major player in a shadowy new field of electronic surveillance.

The five stories explore how Eric Leandri, the privacy-conscious founder of search engine Qwant who posits himself as France’s answer to the Google panopticon, got into a new line of work after being fired from the company in 2020. Leandri now heads up a company called “Alternatif” that specializes in Essential in reversing the privacy promised by Qwant – a digital surveillance hack.

“A trove of internal Altrnativ documents seen by Politico reveal how Léandri investigated critics, competitors and employees of some of France’s biggest brands,” Politico’s Elisa Brown wrote. But wait, there’s more: “They also feature Altrnativ-branded ad groups offering the company’s services along with cyber weapons and drones to authoritarian African governments in apparent collaboration with arms dealers based in Poland and the Middle East.”

Altrnativ, the reports revealed, used sophisticated data-tracking technology to help with everything from corporate warfare to geopolitics. Read full The package is here.

Rep. Madison Cawthorne (RN.C) is ending his time in Congress A bit of a vile tone.

in a report Released yesterday afternoon, the House Ethics Committee fined the outgoing student more than $15,000 for “pumping” Let’s Go Brandon Coin, a “meme coin” that he owned $150,000 worth in December 2021. (More information on this banner and his anti-Biden origins, I read here.)

The report says Cawthorn “was seen in multiple images and videos in which he appeared to specifically support or encourage individuals to purchase LGB Coin, including after the value of LGB Coin he was holding decreased,” leading to the order to pay the aforementioned. to a charitable organization of his choice.

“Ren Cawthorn thanks the committee for its thorough investigation and is pleased to note that the committee has completely exonerated him of the extremely false, malicious and stupid allegations of an improper relationship with staff,” a spokesperson for Cawthorn said in a statement. Statement to Politicoreferring to the non-crypto-related offenses he was accused of, but investigators found no evidence.

Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schrekinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Steve Houser ([email protected]); And the Benton Ives ([email protected]). Follow us @tweet on Twitter.

Ben Schreckinger covers technology, finance, and politics for POLITICO; He is an investor in cryptocurrencies.

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