automation can turn human workers into robots--it's not only job loss

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June Zaccone

Mar 1, 2021, 11:33:52 AM3/1/21
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How the automation economy can turn human workers into robots

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Between the lines: But what Beane and Brynjolfsson have discovered during detailed interviews with e-commerce employees and visits to warehouses is that humans themselves are already working in more automated ways.
  • "Warehouses" — which have very narrow profit margins — "have engineered the environment to make the human ability to cope with uncertainty as close as possible to automation," says Beane. "They want fewer skilled touches over time to make money."
  • That in of itself isn't new, but for e-commerce warehouse workers — often in geographically isolated locations, working long shifts, and unable to effectively unionize — that means there is "no energy or time to learn the new skills" that would help them get ahead of automation.
  • "You are essentially a robot while doing this job," says Beane. But what might be worse is the way that human workers "become institutionalized to that robotic job by the constraints of the environment."
"I would be hard-pressed to think of an industry in human history where we created jobs that require so little of people."
The bottom line: Without better government support, U.S. employees with low job skills increasingly face a future of working like a robot — if at all.

— Matt Beane, UCSB

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Coalition
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