In my previous article Could Machines Replace Humans I looked at the many types of activities that have the potential to be technically automated and how they varied significantly between industry sectors and activities. Where predictable physical work took place it offered significant potential for automation, eliminating the need for human intervention in often physically demanding or dangerous scenarios.
It's encouraging to see that as Amazon embraces Robots to perform 'predictable physical work' it has not yet been at the expense of the traditional workforce which now employ more than 125,000 people across the United States. Reportedly, 'Amazon now has more than 100,000 robots in action around the world, and it has plans to add many more to the mix', but not at the expense of human jobs.
While Amazon continues to invest in robotic automation it has necessitated the creation of new opportunities for its warehouse and distribution staff, altering the mindset of what a traditional team looks like as robot and human work side by side.
When Amazon installed the robots, some people who had stacked bins before, like Ms. Scott, 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 wsere installed, and Amazon found new roles for the displaced workers, Mr. Clark said. “The people didn’t go anywhere,” he said. The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive? For now, there are warehouse tasks — for example, picking individual items off shelves, with all their various shapes and sizes — where people outperform robots. 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.