By Aaron Kesel
An undercover journalist’s account of the conditions for an Amazon UK warehouse staff has gained a massive response online by exposing the legal slavery. But the bigger story is that the retail giant is replacing humans with robots, The Mirror reported.
Alan Selby explains how he found staff are just cattle – there to serve robots:
Amazon has recognized humans are the least efficient part of the operation, so in Tilbury the robots take over.
At every turn it felt like the human staff were reduced to livestock, existing only to service the machines
The repetitive, monotonous work at its ironically named “fulfilment centre” did me no favours mentally, either.
As this writer has written before on Steemit, we are shifting towards a working world with little or no humans as automation and artificial intelligence begins to take over our jobs. It’s cheaper to hire a few robots which don’t need rest and benefits than to hire a few humans which need healthcare and retirement funds.
The other main problem that this shift in society brings is that robots are not only out-competing humans but setting ridiculous performance targets, as the reporter writes.
Thousands of workers are racing to hit goals set by computers monitoring their every move. In my five weeks I saw staff struggling to meet impossible targets, in constant fear of the sack.
I was told to pack 120 single items an hour, or 85 multiple items. And I’ve since been told this will rise to 200 items.
Last year, the Seattle Times reported that Amazon had 45,000 robots spread across its 20 fulfillment centers.
Amazon bought a robotics company called Kiva Systems in 2012 for a whopping $775 million. Kiva’s robots automate the picking and packing process used at large warehouses which offers efficiency that humans can’t match. The robots can run at 5 mph and haul packages weighing up to 700 lbs.
When Amazon acquired Kiva, Phil Hardin, Amazon’s director of investor relations, said:
It’s a bit of an investment that has implications for a lot of elements of our cost structure, but we’re happy with Kiva. It has been a great innovation for us, and we think it makes the warehouse jobs better, and we think it makes our warehouses more productive.
Amazon also uses other types of robots in its warehouses, including large robotic arms that can move large pallets of Amazon inventory anywhere within the warehouse.
The trend has become startling: Amazon saw a 50% increase just last year alone; at the end of 2014, Amazon said it had 15,000 robots operating across 10 warehouses; in 2015, that number doubled to 30,000; and now Amazon has 45,000 in 20 different locations.
Beyond the warehouse, Amazon is also looking at automating the delivery aspect of its business with delivery drones or what it calls Prime Air. In December of last year, the company announced it had made its first delivery by an automated drone in the UK. Then in March of this year, they delivered their first package in the United States. Amazon plans to create what it calls “beehives” in the coming future; a patent filed would allow the fully automated drones to deliver packages from large airships. Ultimately it means they are looking to take away business and jobs from USPS, UPS, and FedEx as well.
Although Amazon still faces hurdles for the automated delivery drones – like the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) – we expect the company based to continue its trend of adding robots in warehouses. The retail giant is clearly committed to gearing its future toward less and less human workers.