#AmazonGo – Amazon’s latest offerings. A shop without check in and check out, where your amazon wallet and enhanced AI, allows you to pick up what you want, and walk out of the door. The system, takes care of everything from entry to the shop, to counting picks, to calculating totals, and deducting it from the amazon wallet. The first store has already been in operation for a year. They are planning to roll it out.
And while the consumer in me rejoices at the thought of no queues (no, i really loathe queues, but that is another story) I can’t but help think, how many jobs will be lost to this. It is only a matter of time before others join in to create a more efficient shopping network, that yields higher profits, and better return to the shareholder. But, the question remains what about the jobs.
With more and more automation, and this is impacting services too. You hear about teams of 150+ systems engineers, being reduced to a dozen. AI is taking over many of the jobs, that don’t require complex decision making. And, give it time, it would do that too.
So what do you do with so many people sitting at home. Or loitering about. Or waiting in queues to find jobs. Where there are no jobs to be had. What do you do?
You could be a benevolent (and prosperous ) system, and pay everyone (i mean every single person) a minimum living wage, so that people not only don’t starve to death, but have something more. But, the planet has 7 billion people. And, you are talking about a fair amount of money for a minimum living wage. I am not sure that countries or economies possess that kind of money to pay people to sit on the bench, unless robotic efficiency is so great, and corporate taxation so fair, and all off shore tax loopholes are abolished and companies pay tax – to be able to deliver this.
There are no consistent estimates for how many people work in the world, there are estimates of as high as 70% of the population is occupied with some work or the other, mostly informal, others talk about a “global labour force of 3.2 billion” in 2030; and, there is an estimate of 1.3 billion people in full time employment by Gallup. This is a 2013 figure. And, I seriously don’t see the figure going up drastically. Gains in one part of the world, would be off set by losses in another. About One fifth (19% if you want accuracy) of the population is in formal employment. And, the rest is in informal employment. And, more of the 1.3 billion jobs will be lost.
I quite like robots. They are good. efficient. They don’t ask for holidays. You don’t have to counsel them. They don’t go on strike. They don’t need to be paid. Or fed. Or clothed. Or be listened to. I am sure 50-60 years from now, they will be writing news and scripts, and making films – but, I will be long gone by then (hopefully) 😀 I can completely see why a large assembly line will replace 800 workers with an army of robots – it is efficient.
But, is efficiency everything ? Should corporate profits be at the expense of social stability. Think of India, 70% of the population under 35. There are large plants that i have visited, that have less than a dozen full time staff. It is all automated. And, they get in contract workers (no benefits) when demand goes up. The rest of the time it is only machines. What happens to the jobs? What happens to the adjoining areas of the factory? Very often land and other tax breaks are offered to companies to set up in the hope it will bring in jobs. Highly skilled jobs.
There are 7 billion people on earth, 7 million mouths to be fed. And, with ever aspect of the market place becoming more and more automated, there are fewere and fewer jobs. . And, while technology is great and good, and i love technology – this aspect of it is also very real. Those jobs gone, will never come back. The ATM is not going to be replaced by a human being (even though a human being doesn’t need to be calibrated to give out Rs 2000 notes), The new jobs that are being promised, are highly skilled jobs. Or require very high levels of decision making. And, you cannot have 2 billion of those.
Should governments, especially in countries with huge populations like India and China, give companies tax breaks not to automate. But, that will make the industries inefficient. How do you trade off technological strides with social stability ? Can states even attempt to do this?
What will states do with all the unemployed ? And, they are all worried about this. Not just because of Brexit and Trumpet, but also this – one of the things that you have when there are large numbers of young people unemployed, is either a war or a revolution . Just look at the middle east, would radical Islam have taken a foot hold if the young were bone dead tired from working all day ?
Do governments even have a plan for future jobs (i am hoping they are discussing with industry and figuring what these jobs are) ? for training people from now on. I don’t know the answers to this. I wish I did. But, i would be very curious to know whether you think your job (not personally but the function that you perform) will be taken over (or not) by the machines. Why is all this important? because if a world with 1/5 people in full time employment is scary – because there are raging fires where ever there are no jobs (crime, riots, rebellion, civil war) – a world with even fewer jobs in even scarier.
(image from here )