Articles

Meet the Robots at Amazon


Pedro Domingos: On the ranking of things to
worry about, Skynet coming and taking over doesn’t even rank in the top ten. It distracts attention from the more urgent
things, for example, what’s going to happen to jobs. Narrator: For a glimpse into the future, consider
one of the largest companies on the planet—Amazon. Tye Brady: Amazon has tremendous scale. We have fulfillment centers that are as large
as 1.25 million square feet. That’s like 23 football fields, and in it
we’ll have just millions of products. Narrator: To deal with that scale, Amazon
has built an army of robots. Brady: Like a marching army of ants that can
constantly change its goals based on the situation at hand So, our robots are very adaptive, and reactive,
in order to extend human capability to allow for more efficiencies within our own buildings. Narrator: And there’s plenty more where
those came from. Every day, this facility in Boston “graduates”
a new batch of machines. Brady: All of the robots that you see that
are moving the pods have been built right here in Boston. I call it the nursery, where the robots are
born. They’ll be built, they’ll take their first
breath of air, they’ll do their own diagnostics. Once they’re good, then they’ll line up for
robot graduation, and then they will swing their tassels to the appropriate side, drive
themselves right onto a pallet, and go directly to a fulfillment center. Narrator: To some of us, this moment belies
a dark sign of what’s to come—a future that doesn’t need us, one where all jobs—not
just cab drivers and truckers—are taken by machines. But Amazon’s chief roboticist doesn’t see it that way. Brady: The fact is really plain and simple:
the more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating. The robots do not build themselves. Humans design them, humans build them, humans
deploy them, humans support them. And then humans, most importantly, interact
with the robots. When you look at that, this enables growth. And growth does enable jobs. Narrator: Certainly, history would seem to
bear him out—since the Industrial Revolution, new technologies, while displacing some jobs—have
created new ones. While this is the predominant view in the AI community, some think it ignores the reality of today’s world. Peter Singer: There’s a long history of
technology creators assuming that only good things would happen with their baby when it
went out into the world. Even if there are some new jobs created somewhere,
the vast majority of people are not easily going to be able to shift into them. That truck driver who loses their job to a
driverless truck isn’t going to easily become an app developer out in Silicon Valley.

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