The Automated Warehouse

In my last post on the Lump of Labor Fallacy, I made the point that many of the products and services we now demand are delivered digitally and that relatively few jobs get created as a result (even most of the software development may well get done offshore).  As I also noted, however, machines are likewise taking over more and more of the work involved in producing and delivering tangible goods.

I think this is something that tends to happen inside the walls of warehouses and factories rather silently—while more attention gets focused on globalization and offshoring. (I’m not saying that those aren’t important issues as well, but I believe automation will ultimately be the trend with the greatest impact, and may even eventually act to reverse globalization to a certain extent).

Check out the video below (grabbed from Singularity Hub) to see how is using automation in their warehouse. The guy doing the talking has a pretty good job, but I worry about the longer term prospects of the one person you see driving a forklift.  Notice how the workers basically fill in “dexterity gaps.” They do things that require lots of hand-eye coordination that the robots are not (yet) able to do:

7 thoughts on “The Automated Warehouse

  1. Perhaps the question could be proposed differently. Rather than trying to show which jobs WILL be automated away, the next time you speak to a disbelieving Economist, ask the question “Tell me 10 jobs that will not have been automated away in the next 100 years.” There are millions of kinds of jobs, how hard could it be to pick ten occupations that will survive so that there is at least 1 person doing it in 100 years?

    If you had asked this 100, 50, or even 30 years ago, any person on the street could have given you their list of 10 jobs (and then would have looked at you like you were crazy.)

    Today, I don’t know many people who would venture a guess.

    It’s a basic question. It should have an easily definable answer set if there is one…

  2. Automation already vastly outstrips off-shoring as a cause of manufacturing job loss. United States share of global manufacturing output has remained around 21% since 1980 even while global manufacturing has increased substantially. What has declined sharply is industrial employment (especially since 2000):

    This is the equivalent of saying that American agriculture is dead because less than 2% are employed in it now and 41% were employed in 1900 even though agricultural output is several magnitudes greater!

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