Jun 13, 2017 - Economy

Amazon shows why robots won't cause mass unemployment

Paul Sakuma / AP

If you want evidence that AI technology won't lead to mass unemployment, look no further than AI pioneer, Amazon. That's according to Silicon Valley intellectual Tim O'Reilly, who writes in a recent Medium post:

"Amazon is constantly upping the ante. It doesn't just cut costs. It uses technology to do more, delighting customers with better service and lower prices. And of course, Amazon's customers respond by buying more products."

Amazon isn't using better technology and processes to cut jobs ā€” its headcount is growing every year, while it offers improved service, often at no extra cost. Amazon also supports small businesses that do business on its platform, many of whom wouldn't be in business without those services.

What about the rest of the economy? O'Reilly writes that it's not technology that kills jobs, "but the short-sighted business decisions that use technology simply to cut costs and fatten corporate profits." In other words, it's not a law of nature that more efficiency and wealth will lead to economic and employment growth.

Why O'Reilly could be wrong: It's true that technology hasn't yet led to mass unemployment, but critics argue:

  • AI will soon eliminate the need for jobs considered low middle-skilled, and average workers won't be able to teach themselves useful tasks.
  • Ownership of productive technologies will be so concentrated that there won't be customers with the wherewithal to support new job-creating enterprises.
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