Thursday, November 17, 2022

Amazon's Sparrow - Creating Unemployment for Americans

On November 10, 2022, Amazon announced its latest technological advance; Sparrow, an intelligent robotic system that advances the handling of items by detecting, selecting and handling individual products in Amazon's vast inventory.


Let's open this posting by looking at the number of Amazon employees doing back to 2009:


Here is a graph showing the annual growth rate in the number of Amazon employees:


Now, let's go back to Amazon's press release about its latest technological advancement.  Here is a video with background on Sparrow:


Amazon's team of roboticists, engineers and software developers have a decade-long history of developing and implementing advanced technology starting with the company's acquisition of robotics company Kiva in 2012.


Here is a quote from the press release about Sparrow:


"Sparrow represents a major advancement in the state-of-the-art technology of industrial robotics. Leveraging computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI), Sparrow can recognize and handle millions of items. Last year, with the support of Amazon technologies, our employees around the world picked, stowed, or packed approximately 5 billion packages—or over 13 million packages per day. Robotics technology enables us to work smarter, not harder, to operate efficiently and safely."


Here is what Amazon has to say about the upside of Sparrow with my bold:


"Beyond the technological advancements of Sparrow, what we’re truly excited about are the implications the technology has and the ways it will benefit our employees and customers. Working with our employees, Sparrow will take on repetitive tasks, enabling our employees to focus their time and energy on other things, while also advancing safety. At the same time, Sparrow will help us drive efficiency by automating a critical part of our fulfillment process so we can continue to deliver for customers."

Sparrow will allow Amazon's employees to focus their time and energy on other things like writing resumes and looking for new jobs.


Amazon claims that its robotics program is "investing in its employees" as quoted here:


"The design and deployment of robotics and technology across our operations have created over 700 new categories of jobs that now exist within the company—all because of the technology we’ve introduced into our operations. These new types of roles, which employ tens of thousands of people across Amazon, help tangibly demonstrate the positive impact technology and robotics can have for our employees and for our workplace. Supporting our employees and helping them transition and advance their career into roles working with our technology is an important part of how we will continue to innovate.

An example of our commitment to advancing employee careers is our Amazon Mechatronic and Robotics Apprenticeship. The 12-week classroom apprentice program, which is covered by Amazon, is followed by 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and industry-recognized certifications, helping our employees learn new skills and pursue in-demand, technical maintenance roles. Following completion of the apprenticeship, employee pay increases by approximately 40% for program participants."


Looking back a few months ago, we find this video about Amazon:



...and this news coverage on America's mainstream media:



...and this video by fulfillment centre workers:


Robots don't complain about heat, overwork, safety issues, low pay, injuries, they don't expect meal breaks, they don't get thirsty and, most importantly, they aren't so impertinent that they will try to least until they become self-aware. 


If Amazon totally automates its fulfillment operations, the company will never again have to subject itself to scrutiny no matter how often it claims that the automation of its operations are supporting its employees.  With over 1.6 million employees, it's quite clear that Amazon could significantly reduce its long-term costs by replacing humans with Sparrow the more than 520,000 robotic drive units that are "on the job".

But, on the upside, Jeff Bezos just keeps on getting richer and richer.

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