Help Wanted – Humans Need Not Apply

News item:
Best Buy is in a lot of trouble

News item:
The robot population is growing…fast.

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Put this in the “what have you read recently that makes you stop and think?” category.

Yesterday, I read the article by Farhad Manjoo, Making Best Buy Better:  The electronics chain’s only hope is to stock fewer products and sell them a whole lot better.  Here’s a key excerpt:

Best Buy is in a lot of trouble. Once the undisputed leader in technology retail—it vanquished Circuit City, CompUSA, and every mom-and-pop electronics store in the country—the company is now being killed by Amazon online and Apple offline. In March, Best Buy reported a $1.7 billion quarterly loss and announced that it would close 50 stores.  

And, don’t forget:

Amazon recently bought Kiva Systems,a company that makes robots that bring items to warehouse workers for packing, instead of the workers having to run all over the warehouse finding the items. That’s fine for now, but it’s pretty obvious that before too long, the robotic systems will become sophisticated enough that you won’t need the workers at all (or at least you’ll only need a few of them).

That paragraph comes from an article linked to on Andrew Sullivan’s blog: Our Robot Future.  I have posted before about the rise of automation (in fact, quite a few times), asking “Where will the jobs be?’ This latest news does not bring me any comfort.  Here is the key excerpt from Rise of the Machines by Paul Waldman, linked to by Sullivan:

We’re all still going to have to find ways to get people to pay us for doing stuff. Otherwise we won’t have the money to purchase the fruits of all those robots’ labors.

…the problem won’t be that the robots will kill us, but that the rise of robots will disintegrate our society, none of us will be able to make a living, and we’ll kill each other. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be nice if a robot cleaned your toilet for you?

Don’t think human looking robots.  Think software, automation…  Now, I don’t know about you, but my life is increasingly filled with such robots of one kind or another replacing work that used to be done by humans.  Just this week, I ordered multiple items from two sources. Amazon and Drugstore.com.  I talked to no one.  I clicked my mouse, and two days later the products arrived at my front door.  Oh, some humans were involved in the transactions.  A driver delivered the boxes.  Someone supposedly fetched the items from the giant fulfillment center shelves.  But I did not go into a store and interact with any humans; software facilitated the orders.

The issue is not “will there be more robots replacing more human jobs?”.  There will be.  A lot more!  (Read the Waldman article.  Or, just google it.  And the Google automated software will fetch you a mountain of articles describing our automated future).

The question is (and the chorus asking this question is growing), “Where will the jobs be?”  Oh, there will be industries adding jobs all along.  But will there be enough new jobs, in enough new industries, to provide work for all the unemployed former Best Buy, Circuit City, Amazon.com, workers?

Anyway, that is some of what I read this week.

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