Posted by & filed under Amazon, Artificial intelligence, robotics.

Description: Last week Amazon, the online retailer, announced it was buying a robot maker called Kiva Systems for $775 million in cash. Before you get excited that Amazon may offer a robot that can tuck you into bed at night and read Kindle books to you, this isn’t that kind of robot company. Instead, Kiva Systems’ orange robots are designed to move around warehouses and stock shelves.

Source: NyTimes .com

Date: March 25, 2012

In each instance, humans are still needed to control the robots. The two engineers believe Amazon’s new robots will do the same thing: helping speed things up in the warehouses.

Robots have been in factories for decades. But increasingly we will see them out in the open. Already little ones — toys, really — sweep floors. But they are getting better at doing what we do. Soon, if Google’s efforts to create driverless cars are successful, cab drivers, cross-country truckers and even ambulance drivers could be out of a job, replaced by a computer in the driver’s seat.

We are starting to see robots on the battlefield. We could eventually have robot police officers and firefighters, robotic guides, robot doctors, maybe even robotic journalists.  Read Rest of Story

Questions for discussion:

1.  Do you see robots replacing humans in business or just aids to make humans more productive?  Why?

26 Responses to “Disruptions: At Amazon, the Robot World Comes a Little Closer”

  1. CAP

    I think robots will replace humans in places such as factories and warehouses where the work is very monotonous, but they will not replace police officers, firefighters or any work that needs emotions and/or human characteristics. Factories and warehouses for making cars or really any object does not need any skill if the work is the same over and over again. It will actually be alot faster if a robot is used to do that type of work because they do not get tired, they don’t need breaks, and they work alot faster than a human. There will probably be robots that are used to help lessen the work for the police officers and fire fighters, but they will not be replaced. What if there was a fire in a building and they sent a robot to put it out? A robot would be good use if the only purpose was to put out the fire, but what if there was a child in the building and the robot was designed to not put itself in danger? The child would not be rescued. If a human was to go and save the child, they would probably take some risks and even put themselves in danger for that child. There are definitely some advantages for having a robot work certain types of jobs, but they will definitely not replace all jobs.

  2. LW

    I believe robots will not replace human being in the business world. Creativity and imagination are characteristics in which I believe to be the building blocks and the fundamentals to succeeding in the business. To have your own ideas that are independent and contribute to the production and creation of new products is an ability in which I foresee to not be in the future of robotics. As for factory work and monotonous jobs, robotics will and are taking over the workplace. Jobs that require repetitive simple motion such as re stocking, digging, car welding, and simple manufacturing robots are required. Robotics are required in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency and quality. I believe robotics to be extremely limited to applications, applications that require human emotion, decision making, or risk will never incorporate robotics into those professions. These professions include firefighters, police, vets, which require active use of morals, decision making, and active risk assessment. Personal transportation I believe to be an independent form of ownership. Individuals choose to buy vehicle in order stoke their ego’s and as a personal possession. No one likes sharing a car, having others drive their vehicles, or not knowing where your vehicle is. So in order to have robotic cars who would buy the car, who would clean it, who receives the money for the fair.

  3. Mike Prest

    In my opinion it is just a matter of time before the technology available to replace humans in the work place is readily available. Once companies see the cost effectiveness of robots there will be no need to use workers especially here in North America where labor is not nearly as cheap as it is in other parts of the world. Companies will use robots and other technologies like it to compete better in the emerging global market.

  4. Jeff

    I view robots no differently than the steam engine from the industrial revolution or the assembly line techniques used by Ford to increase productivity. As with every invention used in business some jobs will be changed others will be lost but always new jobs will be created; most often, more than were lost to begin with. The lack of jobs in the market place today has nothing to do with a surplus of robots in the workforce, and I do not believe this will ever be the case; however, it does appear that many monotonous jobs like stacking shelves, moving boxes and a wide range of jobs that do not require special skills can (and maybe should) be replaced by robots. As mentioned in the article these robots will require human workers to control, program, build and maintain them; offering numerous possibilities for people to move into a better and higher paying occupation. Much of the prosperity and comfort we have in our country today is a result of technological advancements that have enabled our economy to prosper, increasing the standard of living. So I do not believe a greater number of robots being used in the workforce will mean a higher number of unemployed people.

  5. Mike Prest

    (con’t) While the increase use of robots will put some workers out of work it will also create different jobs in IT and IS and with the industry growing more and more jobs will be available to people capable of maintaining and fixing these robots. Also it is apparent that in some situations robots are much more accurate and if a good monitoring system is in place the number of defects during production could be greatly improved.

  6. IDR

    Machines will always be machines, there has to be a human involved in the process of creating them otherwise there would not be robots at all. I think that as long as we keep robots as another tool to aid us, we will be fine. I agree with the author that some jobs will definitely be allocated to robots to simplify or minimize the execution time of a process, such as warehousing jobs or manufacturing. I think that this fact will push individuals to get better education and be more ambitious. There are many resources available for students in Canada and the United States, I see many immigrants struggling with full time jobs and full time school every day, so higher education is possible to achieve. As per businesses, it makes more sense to a firm to make a large investment in machinery/robots to save on the long run, and as long as it aids humans in difficult jobs I can see a practical usage for them.

  7. cl

    I believe robots will take over many of the monotonous duties that people don’t like doing anyways. I see this as a good thing because humans are intelligent creatures and should not be stuck doing the same thing every day. There is no way that robots could take over duties such as firefighter or policeman because they cannot think with emotion, and many of the duties performed during these occupations are not clear cut white and black, often the person will have to use their own discretion. A fireman robot would be good if its task was solely to put out a house that was on fire but if the robot had to save a person that was in distress I don’t think that it would have the proper capabilities to do so. Because robots can not feel emotion so it would be tough for it to know that the person was in distress, so it wouldn’t know whether to put out the fire or pull the person to safety. also robots need humans to control them so that will just be another way to employ humans. I cannot see robots taking over all the duties of humans just the monotonous boring ones.

  8. knwe

    Robots will not replace humans, but they could provide a means of labour that will complete the more mundane tasks that people don’t want to do. I think robots would be most common in more industrial jobs, rather than in jobs where human interaction is a norm such as the service industry. Although the implementation of robots in the service industry could potentially reduce error, the robots would take any emotion that was previously involved out of the transaction – I think people would miss the human interaction. If people are still required to control the robots, there is still an element of human error involved.People would want a real person to thank for helping them, or a real person to complain to if something went wrong. It’s human nature to express emotions to others, and expressing them to a robot with no reaction would just not be the same.
    Robotic workers raises an ethical question of whether the robots should be controlled by humans, or just how much artificial intelligence should be developed to help them complete their assigned tasks? Additionally, the number of people without jobs is another factor in the implementation of robots unless people prefer different jobs, and different jobs are available. The use of robots could potentially give people a chance to use their time for other activities, such as education and leisure. On the other hand, if people do not have jobs, they can’t provide for their families or have enough money to do leisure activities, in which case robot implementation is a losing situation for the humans involved.

  9. MJJ

    Robots and machine will never fully replace humans in the workforce. There will always be jobs that require human interaction. There will always be people who prefer to deal with a human as opposed to a machine. For the industrial jobs like stocking shelves in the Amazon warehouse, or on assembly lines, precision, accuracy and speed are essential to let businesses remain competitive and viable. For tasks like this robots, seem to be the way to go. The use of robots within the fire and police departments is useful but limited. There will always be situations that rely on human qualities instinct and empathy.
    There is always resistance to change. People like what is familiar. People will have to be retrained to become adept at the new jobs operating the robots in the Amazon warehouse or the fire department. People enjoy driving their cars. That, combined with the probable high cost of purchasing a car that drives itself, will inhibit it from becoming a widely used luxury. The cost of purchasing and maintaining a self-driving car would most likely limit its use for taxis, ambulances, and fire trucks. While a full automated world may be where we are headed as a civilization, we are not there yet.

  10. Rosemary

    There is a season for everything. But all the seasons has an expiring date, nothing last forever. Human are human. Robots are machine. Human used blood and brain to survive and that alone put us at the complete advantage not competitive advantage. For interchangeability to occur between human and robot is a definable war. Who created the robot in the first place, is it not humans? Robot cannot and can never reproduce themselves. Human think it to be. Just like God think human to existence. Humans are god over, over robotic machine. Human give the robots the command that the robot needs to do. Human programmed the robot to perform some functions.
    No doubt, they can work faster than human; reduce cost of hiring and labour. But that alone hasn’t made robot to replaced humans. Some elements would still be missing no matter what. Emotions, thinking, feeling, the joy, happiness and sadness of being a human make us superior over any replaceable machine.
    I totally agree that there are jobs that can never be replaced by robot, like the article said the sonorous of making a sweet melody in songs, the talent and gift in composing story, undeniable gift of the artist. Can the machine produce all these effects on their own, without the power and help of humans? The answer is a big NO. May be the only place where the machine would replace human is in the factory, warehouse and some manufacturing companies. With that, its functions are still limited. Humans are perfect in their making. Robots too are perfect in their limited area. Humans produce robots, imagine what you produce replaces you? What is going to be the answer?

  11. rosemary

    There is a season for everything. But all the seasons has an expiring date, nothing last forever. Human are human. Robots are machine. Human used blood and brain to survive and that alone put us at the complete advantage not competitive advantage. For interchangeability to occur between human and robot is a definable war. Who created the robot in the first place, is it not humans? Robot cannot and can never reproduce themselves. Human think it to be. Just like God think human to existence. Humans are god over, over robotic machine. Human give the robots the command that the robot needs to do. Human programmed the robot to perform some functions.
    No doubt, they can work faster than human; reduce cost of hiring and labour. But that alone hasn’t made robot to replaced humans. Some elements would still be missing no matter what. Emotions, thinking, feeling, the joy, happiness and sadness of being a human make us superior over any replaceable machine.
    I totally agree that there are jobs that can never be replaced by robot, like the article said the sonorous of making a sweet melody in songs, the talent and gift in composing story, undeniable gift of the artist. Can the machine produce all these effects on their own, without the power and help of humans? The answer is a big NO. May be the only place where the machine would replace human is in the factory, warehouse and some manufacturing companies. With that, its functions are still limited. Humans are perfect in their making. Robots too are perfect in their limited area. Humans produce robots, imagine what you produce replaces you? What is going to be the answer?

  12. Mike S

    I can see robots being implemented in many more sectors and areas than they are today but I don’t think total replacement will occur. Already there are computer stock trading programs and assembly line robots. They reduce the need for humans working in manual labour jobs or tasks where timing is the main variable to be modified. I feel like this puts a pressure on people without education or ones with repetitive jobs. This pressure is good in my eyes, and will hopefully be enough pressure for these people, now jobless, to go back to school and learn more in order to get a new job. Robots need to be controlled by at least 1 person and need maintenance so there are new jobs that open up when others are replaced by robots. Using robots in business improves efficiency, accuracy, and cuts costs in the long run. In short, I don’t see robots replacing the majority of job titles, but I do see a lot more being used to assist in monotonous tasks and even difficult tasks that take a long time. If people are really afraid that robots will take their jobs then they should do something about it and make a fallback plan instead of hoping they won’t be replaced.

  13. B

    I think it is very possible for robots to replace humans in almost all lines of work. They have already in a lot of fields. Think about if you are in accounting for example. There is already programs out there that do pretty much everything that you are planning on doing for a career – and they do it faster and more accurately. What sets humans apart from robots is that humans are the ones that need the work done, and as such, get to choose who performs that work. So for now, as long as most people are choosing to use an accountant to do their taxes, a relator to show and sell them the best house, a doctor to diagnose their illness, etc., I think we are at no threat of seeing robots replace us. As for whether or not robots will replace workers or just become aids will depend on which will land more profits for producers. That is how everything in this world works. If they can get more money for robots that just help humans rather than replacing them, there will be more desire for someone to produce those kinds of robots.

  14. Scotty

    Lets face it, technology is evolving and we can now create many different robots to perform during in a much better manor than humans can do, however i do not believe that these robots will be in control completely ever and replace humans. As long as we design them in a manor that they need a controller there will always be jobs for people and it will be much better jobs than stocking shelves and stuff like that, monotonous jobs that people learn to hate and recent doing. With these robots productivity is able to increase and you no longer have the friday melon car where people are tired after a long week of work and do a shotty job. This will in turn make happier employees and happier stock holders because profits are being maximized. As long as companies remain honest and fair and train their employees i don’t believe that the robots will ever take over all the human jobs. New jobs will be created that actually requires a human which a robot may not be able to do.

  15. Jon

    I believe that robots will replace humans in certain industries, while others will escape their influence. I think industries such as the manufacturing industry, where many tasks are repetitive or monotonous, all work will eventually be taken over by robots. We are already seeing this today, especially in the auto-making industry; they can work without breaks, they can be very precise, and produce a consistent level of accuracy that humans cannot match. The example of Amazon’s purchase evidences that robotics are continuing their influence and I believe that robots will continue to be used, eventually taking many jobs.
    On the other hand, I believe some industries are secure from robots influence, and any introduction will be only as an aid to the profession. While robots can do effective work, and can be programmed to do a specific job, there is something consoling about working with a real person. To trust a robot to something such as perform a heart transplant or major surgery, drive a car, or teach a class is a difficult thing to imagine. No matter how technology advances, I would be more comfortable if human beings were in control of these functions. I think this is because there is a level of ambiguity to all of these tasks. I believe that this view is echoed by many and thus robots will not ever have complete control in this world.

  16. Michael

    Humans have been replaced by robots for production and it will continue to grow and develop. As automation becomes more sophisticated more and more technologies can be automated. This is a good thing because it frees capital and human resources to contribute to other areas of development. As computer technology increases we will continue to see this happen and society as whole will develop as we become more and more based on ideas and thought rather than what we can physically make. By not needing physical workers more people are free to contribution to other areas of scientific advancement creating a better society for us all. I am excited to see where this technology takes us in the future. As computers get more and more sophisticated and simulating more areas it wil be interesting to see if they eventually move into the area of thinking for humans instead of doing physical tasks. More and more area are becoming automated and with less human intervention difficulties can arise such as seen in finance with increased volatility in the markets. This can cause problems such as the flash crash where computers went wrong and caused the market to drop this is why having human intervention as means of a failsafe is very important for this area.

  17. neltum

    The advancement of technology has enabled robotics to execute basic human functions so much so that several top notch companies are utilizing its services defining the possibility that human work force will soon be adversely affected. But robotics are man operated devices which means to say that even robotics is utilized, there will always be a necessity for human labor to make them actually function. Now, what seems to be worth worrying about is how efficient robotics can be as replacement for human work force? What about margin of error? What about going beyond what it is expected to do.? These robots function as they are programmed. Any error that may arise during its function is something we can’t easily have control of. Unlike humans, we can still go out of our own way to resolve an issue, out of our own initiatives, out of our own volition which makes human work force to be more reliable and more efficient so to speak.

  18. John McAllister

    As mentioned in the article, the development of technology has made people fearful since the industrial revolution and the truth is that there will always be work. I do believe that robots being developed are aimed at helping people complete boring or difficult jobs and will work best if they are working with the people. As technology has developed faster and faster in the past 60 years, there have been many changes to the way we do business. It is likely that those changes will always happen and as a species it is crucial for humans to adapt. We can do this by finding new areas of life to work on to become a better society. This will be able to happen because it is my belief that no matter how smart and efficient a robot becomes it will never (at least not in my life time) replace the human element of work that includes emotional intelligence. There is a long way to go and the future is certainly exciting. With new gadgets becoming available all the time there is no limit to what people can accomplish and that makes the next 60 years even more unpredictable than the last.

  19. aaron

    It’s a scary thought to think that these robots are able to replace a human worker efficiently, but its unavoidable in my opinion. If amazon does not turn to an automated system, it could provide room for a competitor to enter the market. Standardized jobs have the ability to be replaced with machines, however, I do not think that a computer will be able replace the human qualities that are unquantifiable. These qualities can’t be processed through a machine like they can be processed through a human, and I personally think that were along ways away from artificial intelligence that could substitute a human in variable decision making. For example, many robots may be good when asked a few selected questions or procedures, but for the most part, robots cant prioritize the way that a human can. And in my opinion, even if it could process like a human, it would still be prone to human error, because anything made by a human must have error(religio!). I guess as it turns out, good thing all those singers , artists and sports players were paid so much money, because I have to agree, they will not be replaced with robots any time soon.

  20. Ellie

    With the development of the science and technology, the robots have more functions. There is no doubt that robots make things more efficient and can save time for people. The invention of robots brings connivance for the human beings. Robots can replace some jobs for people but cannot replace all jobs. On the positive part, robot can co some specific or dangerous jobs instead of people. For example, the robots can dive hundreds of meters to do some repair task. Also, the robots can work more effectively and release the errors. They improve the quality of the productions and release the errors during the product processing. Engineers just need to set the commands on the robots and the robots will accomplish the commons. As we watched on the video, Toyota Company began to use the robots to package cars instead people. And several years ago, the archaeologists make use of robots to explore Khafras Pyramids. The robots just can help us but they do not have the creativity, they just follow the human being’s commands. Robots cannot compose as a musicians, cannot draw pictures as painters. The technology of building robots develop day by day, we enjoy the benefits from developing of the science. Also, the robots do not have the emotion; they cannot act as human beings completely.

  21. Claudia

    I think that automation will replace certain aspects of business, however, i think that a human presence will always remain in the workplace because something or someone is always held accountable. That being said, I think they will continue to act as human aid to gain increased levels of productivity and hopefully reduce the amount of human error seen in manufacturing and shipping situations. Robotic aid can definitely help the world of business, but we need to be careful that we are not cutting minor costs at the expense of a workers job or ability to provide for their family. If automation can continue to compliment the human presence in business then the robotic relationship should favour both the business and the employee.

  22. Josh

    Personally, I do not see the future labour force being entirely robots. The article makes many convincing points about how society has tackled progressions in industry such as the Industrial Revolution and mechanization of agriculture. The advent of robot into the workforce I truly believe will be in the form of tools and equipment rather than as “employee”. Yes, some people will probably lose their jobs as the efficiency of the processes are improved due to the robo-operations but to suggest that massive layoffs and entire workforces being out of work is just not something that I see happening.

  23. Tyler

    I think that robots are both going to replace humans in the workforce as well as make them more productive depending upon what the type of job that the person is doing. If it is a job that is quite repetitive than it’s possible that robots would be able to replace a number of employees who are doing a job and making it only necessary to have a few to oversee the efforts of the robots. Such an example would be in a warehouse like the one that amazon has which has workers who do quite often do tasks that are simple and repetitive that robots would be able to do. However when the jobs become more complex such as being a police officer, a journalist or a doctor which require split second judgement decisions robots would most likely be there to only make them more productive since those are areas that the robots could be viewed as having deficiencies in making decisions such as that and since they have to be programmed one would wonder about what kind of programming would go into the robot to make them make such a decision. So with the advance of robot technology there will be jobs lost but those will most likely be the ones at the bottom of the ladder and hopefully people would be able to be trained for better jobs.

  24. JX

    First, I do not think robots will replace humans in business or other areas. Many movies and novels already discussed this issue. Even hundreds years later, robots still will be robots. There is no doubt that artificial Intelligent have been hugely increased, and it will be keeping increasing, but robot just imitate or simulate people’s actions or thinking. It is very difficult for robot to work and think as same as a person. Robots have some advantages that person does not have such as accuracy, lack of fatigue and easy to change. I think that human beings working with robots is a good way of improving productive and performance. Furthermore, some dangerous work that will be the good area for robots such as detecting bombs in wars and texting car’s safety. In the company foxcon, the workers do the same actions thousands time per a day, so a lot of workers are suffered from that. if we use robots do that, the problem may be resolved. In developed countries, the labor cost is a big part for company, so robot may be a good solution for that. in developing countries, many bosses do not want to use robot to produce productions, because of the low labor cost in these countries.

  25. Carly

    I cannot imagine that robots will ever fully replace humans in business. It is quite possible that robots will replace some jobs performed by humans. It is likely that jobs requiring movement of the human body and less cognitive thinking will be the ones that can be replaced by robots. There are many functions in a business operation that will always require some human element. Any job that depends on new outlooks and the creativity of the human mind could not be performed by a robot. It would also be important in any robotic operation for humans to oversee operations to ensure things run smoothly. If we begin to see an increase in the use of robots for business purposes, this could create jobs within the industry. Robots, like any new technology, will present some technical problems and will therefore require some technical assistance as well as constant maintenance. As the robot industry becomes more competitive, it will become more difficult to sell robots. I believe that sales cannot be completed at maximum efficiency with a robot because humans bring a psychological connection to the table that cannot be provided by a robot. As robots take over some jobs in order to improve human productivity, humans will continue to strive in the industries that better them as a whole.

  26. Morgan

    The idea that robots could take over human jobs is always a terrifying prospect but I don’t think it would come to that. Robots have been found in repetitive tasks such as factory work and production lines for years now and I like to believe that’s almost as far as it will go. Dangerous aspects of policing (such as hostage situations) would require robotic help, but robots cannot police the street in the same way humans can. Janitorial work will probably be done by robots, which is unfortunate because it is an industry that employs thousands of workers. The article mentioned that the threat of losing their job gives people motivation to learn new skillsets, but that’s not always an option for some people. People go to school to be secretaries and instrument sterilization technicians, but those are both jobs which could easily be done by a robot.

    Humans would still dominate jobs such as doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, etc. but the way in which they complete the work would be far different than today because of technological advancements. The article mentions that there will always be people making the robots, but the actual construction process may very well be taken over by robots – it is a repetitive, production-line type of job, after all. There needs to be humans designing new looks and operating capabilities, but only so many people can be employed from that. I think it would be wise to monitor employment rates and cap the production of robots if the unemployment rate gets too high. That way, there should always be jobs available if they are needed.

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