Jun 13, 2017

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 — 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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Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 6,325,303 — Total deaths: 377,460 — Total recoveries — 2,727,679Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,820,523 — Total deaths: 105,644 — Total recoveries: 458,231 — Total tested: 17,340,682Map.
  3. Public health: Protests against police brutality threaten coronavirus response — Controlling the virus in nursing homes won't be easy.
  4. Business: More than 1 in 6 black workers lost jobs between February and April.
  5. Climate: The alarm over climate financial risk gets louder because of coronavirus.
  6. Media: Interest in the George Floyd protests has soared past the coronavirus.

Updates: George Floyd protests nationwide

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued across the U.S., inciting a federal response from President Trump, the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Immigration agents have been deployed to assist federal, state and local law enforcement. The U.S. Secret Service closed the streets immediately on all four sides of the White House Tuesday, until "riots become peaceful, or stop."

NASA passes the torch

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the historic crewed SpaceX launch last weekend, NASA passed the torch to private companies that will need to step up to build the economy the space agency envisions in orbit.

Why it matters: This new era of spaceflight will likely be marked by new conflicts — possibly including product placement (like the Tesla that drove the astronauts to the pad on Saturday), safety concerns and cultural differences between companies, the space agencies and people they serve.