Future Automation Society
Imagine a warehouse, an employee approaches a stack of boxes. The boxes are different sizes, colours, and they are not placed evenly. The employee can easily sort out the closest and largest or smallest first.
Academic occupations are at risk.
The UK’s guardian newspaper, partner site Guardian Australia, published its first news story in 2019, called reportermate. A program that takes a data, a story template then compiles it into a news story without much human intervention. While this new advancement won’t make news reporters redundant, in time artificial intelligence could very well change the coverage of news.
While most news outlets don’t like to make known this technology being used, according to wired writer Steven Levy, and Kristian Hammond, they predicted that more than ninety percent would be produced using this new software available by the 2030’s.
Facebook which would of worked completely differently in the past, now due to the cloud, remote diagnostic of technical problems can be solved without the need for engineers to do so. Software called cyborg monitors thousands of servers, which can detect faults and even repair them, without any employee to physically go to them. One single engineer can monitor up to 20,000 computers.
This example shows how a company can build a data center and only need one hundred or less employees using just a piece of software to the majority of the work, a town could have many thousands of residents. Any residents hoping for employment by a mega tech giant will only be left disappointed.
Even beyond a data centre, there is more disruption with the new technology, a data analysis company can need less than two hundred employees using cloud technology, with which in the past would’ve of been in the thousands.
This is our world of automation.
At fast food outlets, Mcdonalds had announced that they’d install checkouts at their European restaurants. This type of new emerging automation will lower labor costs, and make other business follow in this direction. In the United Kingdom, the retail chain Poundland introduced self service checkouts in December 2016, some have the use of card only, while others have the use of both. The supermarket chain Tesco has also used self service checkouts in recent years, in they’re smaller express stores where they are located at trains stations. Much larger stores have also had them installed. In some, there have been very small weighing and sensor pads, too small for larger items.
Mobile phone payment
Mobile phones are much more commonly used now to pay for groceries at supermarkets. This has been used in the United States at Walmart and Target stores, while this has been mainly as a replacement to using a card payment.
The smart phones technology can enable to use the camera to scan the item and walk out, without having to queue for service.
In the United kingdom, this only recently has been trialed by Marks & Spencer's supermarket in 2019. As well that same year, a Sainsbury’s store opened it’s first only cell phone payment shop in London. It has had mixed responses with many customers opting to pay using a checkout, the store in particular had no checkouts, only for designated for staff use for refunds.
The technology is new, and controversial but certainly radical.
The service sector is where the vast majority of people are in employed in, in the areas of Automatic transfer machines(ATM) and self service checkouts, new forms of service sector automation is likely in this decade and into the next. This putting millions of low wage earns at risk.
A startup called Momentum machines Inc, based in San Francisco, had setout with the aim to automate a burger production line. While a fast food worker prepares the food, Momentum machine’s can shape the burgers from fresh meat, and then grills them. It has the ability to add just the correct amount of char while still retaining the juices.
The machine which can make up to three hundred per hour. The buns are also toasted, fresh slices of onions, lettuce, and pickles only after the order has been placed.
The burgers are moved by a conveyer belt. The founder of the company plainly stated the goal of the company wasn’t to make the food production efficient, but remove staff entirely from the production line. Momentum estimated that a typical fast food outlet spends $135,000 on wages every year. The total labor costs is nine billion annually.
The impact of automation is clear, the stock market may have high gains, an upward trajectory as seen in years gone by. Wall street banks have made layoffs that have gone into the thousands due to software making their roles redundant. Twenty years ago, wall street had under 200,000, above 160,000 employees in the financial sector. That now stands at under 100,000. Inspite of continued gains, efficiency of computers has taken away more of what was, and left a trail of unemployment in its wake. David Ferrucci who is a computer scientist worked for IBM, left to work for a hedge fund at wall street. His goal was to use artificial intelligence to gain a competitive edge for the company.
This sector has already been affected by this change by online access to movies. Companies such as Borders or famously known Block Busters, have been decimated due to companies like Amazon offering cheap movies.
Online retail in theory should not remove employment, but would move them from their traditional position to warehouse and distribution centre's used by these companies such as Amazon.
How ever the reality of moving these roles to such locations, they then become target to being automated.
Amazon purchased a robotic company called Kiva. Kiva resembles hockey pucks, are designed to move materials within a warehouse. Instead of using employees to have a look for them, Kiva robot travels under a entire pallet and moves it directly to the worker’s packing order location.
The robots navigate using a grid laid out by a bar code that are attached to the floor, this is all done autonomously. Major retail outlets have used this technology, which included Toy’s R us, as well Staples.
When Amazon bought this technology, a year after, it had in use, more than 1,000 of these robots, only then by expanding this to the warehouses.
The Kroger company is one of the largest in the US, has also tried automated distribution centre's, its system is capable of receiving pallets with many quantities of just one single item, from any vendor. It then disassembles them and creates new pallets containing different items that are ready to deliver to supermarkets.
These automated warehouses completely removed the need for employees to do the work, except for loading and unloading on the trucks.
Researchers at the university of Oxford at Martin School have carried out an in-depth study over seven hundred occupations and concluded that almost fifty percent of could be automated by machines. In the UK, a report by the parliament has estimated one third of job occupations in the UK will be automated with the next two decades.
Many roles have been off shored to other countries not in the OECD, this also creates less employment as automation and removal of workers in one country for another.
Robots in the retail chain
The next major change that will take place in the years ahead, is the use of automation and robotics in shops. The same innovations that have enabled manufacturing robots to advance the frontier or physical dexterity, and visual recognition will allow retail automation to move from present warehouses into the shops, supermarkets to do shelf filling tasks.
Self service checkouts
Vending machines and Kiosks. These two changes to the retail sector as the next big transformation. This new self service technology is in no doubt going to remove the service employee role, there will be still other forms of employment. Maintenance, and general repair, how ever these will be limited.
Redbox rental kiosks
Redbox, a film rental company has 45,000 movie rental kiosks. These are based in the US and Canada, they are located at shops and major retail outlets. They on average rent three million films a day.
One particular outlet in Chicago has only seven employees, the machines are stocked by an automated system.
The most work intensive is changing the translucent movie adverts on the kiosk machines. This take the machine only two minutes to do on its own. The staff can work In the warehouse where the films are stored until slotted for the machine to store. While the rest of the functions of Red box are done remotely from the employee’s home. They use the internet to monitor the service running an in-house website.
Remote management is the key to running Red box effectively, they are designed so if one machine jams, a fault ticket is sent out, an work can simply login to the system, and trigger the system to dislodge the jamming in the machine. Now that’s pretty radical for such a small business that takes little floor space.
The now defunct block buster store chains employed that amount of staff that Red box does, and that is only for one location over a number of miles.
Redbox also rented out computer games for the gaming systems of Xbox one, Playstation 4 and switch, Redbox stopped renting them out in 2019 as a way of focusing exclusively on movies.
Drinks serving Robot
The German company called Kuka, an iconic brand has manufactured a robot that can operate within a elaborate bar, which works by a customer ordering a drink using a phone. It requires an app, so a customer just needs to create an account to use it. The robot then proceeds to have a glass in its support, and selects the desired drink ordered from a dispenser. All this requires no operation or prepared by a staff member. This one example shows how an automated system has moved into the drinks business. In South Korea, a company called KT has innovated a robot service system, that delivers a customer’s order to their table with no staff interaction. A customer simply uses a touch screen on a robot server to place an order.
The restaurant No Brand burger as well as Chain mad for garlic has partnered with KT’s artificial intelligence business division to implement this new technology.
The orders that are sent via the robot server, are in the kitchen where a machine cooks the burgers automatically. The only role that any staff have, is add toppings to the food, the food is simply placed on the robot server, where its sent off to a table. The server can deliver up to four tables in total.
The robots use a three dimensional mapping technology to navigate around the restaurant. So it does avoid obstacles, people or other tables.
Robot Sign road marker
The robot sign maker manufactured by WJ robotics has only recently changed how road signs are now painted on roads, where previously would take road workers hours to complete. The robot works by using GNSS for navigation, it is precise and can mark out center lines, and car park bays, using a storage usb disk can mark out any other shape such as lettering, arrows, numbers, arrows and even logos. The current methods of sign making for roads has not changed since its inception, it is a slow and a lot of hard work on the body. The process involves, calculating where the road markings should be, then walking the route with a measuring wheel and marking with aerosol paint.
This has safety and health complications potential back injuries from paint spraying for hours and also using a hazardous substance to so, and lastly not forgetting poor weather conditions. The robot does all of this with speed and accuracy, there are no complaints with this new technology. A few examples of the WJ's work and time saving tasks, it has pained up to eight miles of one motorway in only four hours. This would of taken a few workers about a week and a half to complete. While this technology is certainly impressive, it won't be long until other tasks in civil engineering, road maintenance and the construction sector to remove the occupations that previously have been around for decades.
Or is the question, how many work on a farm today?
Farming was the main form of employment, and sustenance, for many centuries. The first sector to change because of machinery was this one. While it has remained labor intensive due to the nature of this type of work. Other areas of it have also remained the same, with vegetables grown they require high perception and handling with care. Fruits and vegetables can easily be damaged and are selected on the softness and colour of them.
For example berry picking is still done using a vehicle with sorters who ride on the back, almost like a small dump truck. The driver drives five miles per hour and the vehicle has a grab mechanism that shakes the berries off the branches.
For a robot to take over this role in some independent way, lighting of the area and size of the vegetables would prove difficult to replace a laborer.
In San Diego, a company has been developing a machine to pick oranges. The robot’s computer will create a three dimensional image of a tree, store each orange’s location. Then the robotic arm’s will begin rapidly picking them.
Another start up
Harvest Automation, based in Boston. Originally focused to automate productions in greenhouses, the company estimates that manual labor makes up thirty percent of the cost of the work load. In the future the company thinks that robots could do up to forty percent of the labor now required in parts of North America as well Europe.
Smart robot picker
Picking cauli flower this season? Think again.
Field robotics teamed up with a French company called Bonduelle. The robot company was the first to create the raspberry picking robot, has now began efforts to expand further with a new picking robot that can pick cauli flower.
This new innovation can grip, cut neatly a cauli flower head. The robot works by three dimensional cameras, and sensors. It uses machine learning, an artificial intelligence system.
The Australian centre for field robotics at the university of Sydney has focused for several years of employing agricultural robots. As so close to Asia, the country hopes to make it the main supplier of food for the increasing population in the region.
The project envisions robots that would continuously take samples of soil from around individual plants and inject a precise amount of fertilizer. This new technology could reduce the amount of chemicals by more than fifty percent, as well as toxicity that often ends up in rivers.
As land often has to support more people than it originally would support, as the world’s population increases year after year, arable land will be used more often using technology as described much more efficiently than people labor. As well in countries where ecosystems have been damaged.
California state has machines that shake almond trees, another machine takes the almonds that are on the ground. California’s pickers have moved to this due to nuts because they still require laborers rather than using a machine.
How ever this also brings up the reoccurring problem of former land laborers having to move to a city to look for new employment, only then to see the full scale of other areas affected by automation.