Amazon, robots, and diverging views of automation

Amazon, robots, and diverging views of automation

LAS VEGAS — What happens to jobs, the economy and business when a company can create the perfect worker out of silicon and steel? Amazon’s new warehouse robots, unveiled this week, could have lasting implications for the company and its workforce at a pivotal moment for technology and the labor movement.

In addition to developing and deploying its own fleet of robots, Amazon is keeping an eye on technology that’s further out on the horizon, as demonstrated by its investment in Agility Robotics, maker of a bipedal warehouse robot called Digit. (Amazon hasn’t yet signaled any plans to use Digit in its own operations.)

Amazon says it sees immense long-term benefits for worker safety, productivity and efficiency, with robots ultimately helping humans do better and more fulfilling work, not taking their jobs. The company points to the fact that it has hired a million people in the past decade, more than twice the number of robots in its operations.

“We build our machines so that humans are at the center of the robotics universe,” said Tye Brady, chief technologist for Amazon Robotics, unveiling the new robots on stage in Las Vegas this week at re:MARS, an Amazon conference focusing on machine learning, automation, robotics and space.

He added, “At the highest level, the very highest level, we aim to extend human capability and build collaboration between people and machines.”

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