Displaced by a robot

I remarked a while back that the increased role of automation and AI in commerce wasn’t yielding the spinoff jobs formerly associated with the rise of new technologies.

It’s easy to predict that a lot of jobs are going to be lost. The traditional reaction is … so what? New technologies mean new opportunities, new jobs, new riches, ‘creative destruction’ and all that — spinoffs. The loss of retail jobs thanks to online shopping, however, hasn’t been accompanied by an offsetting opportunity somewhere else; the guy who used to sell refrigerators at Sears is now getting old hustling boxes around an Amazon warehouse — and that job will soon be taken over by a robot.

What do you know?

The sprawling warehouse, which looks big enough to double as an airport hangar, is unofficially known as the “robot highway.”

Inside Amazon’s Denver, Colo., “sortation center,” an army of orange robots –– each one about the size of a large suitcase with a small conveyor belt on top –– glides across the concrete floor, picking up and then delivering packages to one of hundreds of chutes that organize each item by Zip code before they’re shipped to customers.

Though largely unknown to the outside world, the robots, known as Pegasus, have already logged more than 1.5 million miles of driving …

And that guy who used to sell refrigerators at Sears, then wrecked his back schlepping boxes around the Amazon warehouse? Now he’s sitting on the couch watching Oprah re-runs and wondering what the hell ran over him.

We are not far away from epochal changes in society; we are headed toward a day when there really won’t be work for a huge number of people.

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