Meet the Robots at Amazon

  • By Michael Rivera
  • Posted 05.16.18
  • NOVA

Will robots take over the world? Most researchers don’t think so. But how about our jobs?

Running Time: 2:50


Meet Amazon’s Robots

Published May 15, 2018

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, right. 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 direct 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.

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.

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.



Digital Producer
Michael Rivera
Michael Bicks & Anna Lee Strachan
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018

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