Friday, May 3, 2019

Singularity Attacks! - Part 2

"A world where people are monitored and supervised by machines isn’t confined to the realms of sci-fi. It’s here now."

Back in February of 2017... in our last installment of Singularity Attacks! ...we took a look at the rise of automation in the US and the impact it is having on the traditional workplace. We looked at the increase in manufacturing in the US, with a simultaneous decrease in manufacturing jobs. Moving forward, it is clear that these jobs are never coming back, thanks in no small part to automated innovation, which will eliminate so many other kinds of jobs in the years to come, as well. From that post...

"In the US, the number of manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 and has steadily decreased ever since. At the same time, manufacturing has steadily increased, with the US now producing more goods than any other country but China. Machines aren’t just taking the place of humans on the assembly line. They’re doing a better job. And all this before the coming wave of AI upends so many other sectors of the economy. “I am less concerned with Terminator scenarios,” MIT economist Andrew McAfee said on the first day at Asilomar. “If current trends continue, people are going to rise up well before the machines do."

As if this outlook is not concerning enough, a recent article in MIT Technology Review paints the inevitable next-step picture in things to come... from none other than the great online retail juggernaut, Amazon. 

I know what you are thinking... but it is not about Amazon's invasive surveillance practices...

There have been many reports over recent years about unpleasant conditions workers face at Amazon warehouses. Employees are under pressure to pack hundreds of boxes per hour, and face being fired if they aren’t fast enough. Documents obtained by The Verge show that it’s far more common for people to be fired due to lack of productivity than outsiders realize. Roughly 300 people were fired at a single facility between August 2017 and September 2018 for that reason. And crucially, the documents show that much of the firing process is... automated.

Amazon tracks every individual worker’s productivity, and automatically generates warnings or even terminations without any input from supervisors, the company said. So if it isn't bad enough to be replaced by a machine... now we can look forward to being "let go" by a machine, as well. This puts a whole new spin on the "Terminator" connotation, doesn't it?

Hasta Lavista for now, dear intrepid readers... watch this space for more singularity updates.


Maria Rigel said...

Amazon may think they're being clever, but they've only started an arms race between their productivity algorithms and the employees, that will be trying to game them because their livelihoods depend on them. This sort of thing is expected end up with Amazon in a state of complete confusion about their productivity. They're going to find out the hard way that data isn't knowledge.

It takes humans to supervise humans. This has been tested and demonstrated again and again. Every time that somebody has thought they came up with a cunning system of getting rid of middle management, they found the hard way that, surprise surprise, they are needed. The only way of getting rid of some middle management is in the cases when a group can be charged with supervising each other, given the right tools. And I doubt Amazon warehouses are in one of those cases.

Jack Heart said...

Maria... you make a great point. Data isn’t knowledge. Human discernment is critical in predicting and pursuing desired outcomes. The action word in the previous statement is “Desired” is the HIGHer functioning of human desire that predicates a creative meaning inherent in knowledge.

With that said, there are a few chores that I wouldn’t mind turning over to the machines!

Anonymous said...

AI tree planters call for wood. Out pops the head of the AI's foremen S.W. with an alligator tail hanging from his butt. Have some fun I say for tomorrow all wage slaves who make widgets for happy meals will strike for mere mouthfuls of fries and alligator shoes made in Bolivia. Cats downe under the stars! 87

Jack Heart said...

Anony... anyone who sweats like that must be alright!