Email On conference stages and at campaign rallies, tech executives and politicians warn of a looming automation crisis — one where workers are gradually, then all at once, replaced by intelligent machines.
Robot Makes Scientific Discovery All by Itself | WIRED
But their warnings mask the fact that an automation crisis has already arrived. The robots are watching over hotel housekeeperstelling them which room to clean and tracking how quickly they do it.
But for workers, what look like inefficiencies to an algorithm were their last reserves of respite and autonomy, and as these little breaks and minor freedoms get optimized out, their jobs are becoming more intense, stressful, and dangerous. In few sectors are the perils of automated management more apparent than at Amazon. One supervisor would walk the floor, laptop in hand, telling workers to speed up when their rate dropped.
Gaining human trust
Amazon said its system notifies managers to talk to workers about their performance, and that all final decisions on personnel matters, including terminations, are made by supervisors. He likened it to doing a twisting lunge every 10 seconds, nonstop, though he was encouraged to move even faster by a giant leaderboard, featuring a cartoon sprinting man, that showed the rates of the 10 fastest workers in real time.
Top performers got an Amazon currency they could redeem for Amazon Echos and company T-shirts. Low performers got fired. A supervisor sometimes told him to bend his knees more when lifting. When Jake did this his rate dropped, and another supervisor would tell him to speed up. Go faster? He was diagnosed with two damaged discs and had to go on disability.
Any slack is perpetually being optimized out of the system, and with it any opportunity to rest or recover.
For the first time, a robotic system has made a novel scientific discovery with virtually no human intellectual input.
In November, Reveal analyzed documents from 23 Amazon warehouses and found that almost 10 percent of full-time workers sustained serious injuries inmore than twice the national average for similar work.
Multiple Amazon workers have told me that repetitive stress injuries are epidemic but rarely reported.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company takes worker safety seriously, has medical staff on-site, and encourages workers to report all injuries. Backaches, knee pain, and other symptoms of constant strain are common enough for Amazon to install painkiller vending machines in its warehouses.
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The unrelenting stress takes a toll of its own. Jake recalled yelling at co-workers to move faster, only to wonder what had come over him and apologize. By the end of his shift, he would be so drained that he would go straight to sleep in his car in the warehouse parking lot before making the commute home.
Jake estimated he was hired along with 75 people, but that he was the only one remaining when his back finally gave out, and most had been turned the robot earns itself twice. All they have make money online with your mind do is work real fast. InAmazon started deploying shelf-carrying robotswhich automated the job of walking through the warehouse to retrieve goods. The robots were so efficient that more humans were needed in other roles to keep up, Amazon built more facilities, and the company now employs almost three times the number of full-time warehouse workers it did when the robots came online.
But the robots did change the nature of the work: rather than walking around the warehouse, workers stood in cages removing items from the shelves the robots brought them. Employees say it is one of the fastest-paced and most grueling roles in the warehouse. Last year saw a wave of worker protests at Amazon facilities.
Almost all of them were sparked by automated management leaving no space for basic human needs. In Californiaa worker was automatically fired after she overdrew her quota of unpaid time off by a single hour following a death in her family.
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She was rehired after her the robot earns itself submitted a petition. In Minnesota, workers walked off the job to protest the accelerating rate, which they said was causing injuries and leaving no time for bathroom breaks or religious observance.
To satisfy the machine, workers felt the robot earns itself were forced to become machines themselves. Steam engines and stopwatches had been around for decades before Frederick Taylor, the original optimizer, used them to develop the modern factory. Working in a lateth century steel mill, he simplified and standardized each role and wrote detailed instructions on notecards; he timed each task to the second and set an optimal rate.
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In doing so, he broke the power skilled artisans held over the pace of production and began an era of industrial growth, and also one of exhausting, repetitive, and dangerously accelerating work.
The speed of the line controlled the pace of the worker and gave supervisors an easy way to see who the robot earns itself lagging.
Laborers absolutely hated it. The work was so mindless and grueling that people quit in droves, forcing Ford to double wages. We are in the midst of another great speedup. There are many factors behind it, but one is the digitization of the economy and the new ways of organizing work it enables.
Take retail: workers no longer stand around in stores waiting for customers; with e-commerce, their roles are split. Some work in warehouses, where they fulfill orders nonstop, and others work in call centers, where they answer question after question.
In both spaces, workers are subject to intense surveillance. Their every action is tracked by warehouse scanners and call center computers, which provide the data for the automated systems that keep them working at maximum capacity.
At the most basic level, automated management starts with the schedule. Scheduling algorithms have been around since the late s when stores began using them to predict customer traffic and generate shifts to match it.