AMAZON HAS begun the process of living out another of our greatest fears: giving our jobs to machines.
Reuters reports that the company has started rolling out machines in some of its warehouses that can scan the order, find the packaging, and wrap it.
That's a function that has been keeping thousands of people in work for years, and now those jobs could be in danger.
There are plans to roll out the automatic packing arrays at more warehouses - two in each, replacing 24 jobs at each of up to 55 distribution centres. That's a lot of humans.
It's thought that Amazon's machine, known as CartonWrap by an Italian company called CMC, cost about a million each and that they should show a cost saving after around two years, as they can churn out boxes at the rate of 600-700 per hour. That's the equivalent of five puny humans.
"We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network," an Amazon spokeswoman told Reuters. "We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created."
Although robotic automation of jobs has always been balanced by an expectation that new roles will be created in running and designing of their replacements, the prospect of such a massive cull from a massive employer will really bring home that yes, this stuff is actually going to happen.
Amazon has no plans to lay people off but will, it says, eventually stop replacing people as they leave. That sounds like it could be a lengthy process, but the arduous nature of the job and the high targets being worked to mean that generally, natural wastage isn't going to cause a problem for very long at all. Stragglers will be ‘re-purposed', says the company.
Someone close to the project told Reuters that this was just the beginning and that the ultimate goal is what they call a ‘lights-out' warehouse, where the ghosts-in-the-machine can frollick to their heart's content. μ
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