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MIT Technology Review

Amazon’s automation goes white collar

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The ranks of the company’s retail team have dwindled, and algorithms have taken people’s place.

Some background: Use of automation in Amazon’s warehouses continues to grow. Its robot army now numbers over 100,000 strong.

Office automation: The company’s cubicle jockeys aren’t immune to the algorithmic invasion. What started with shifting ordering and inventory-tracking responsibilities over to software has now expanded to tasks like negotiating with major brands. “Computers know what to buy and when to buy, when to offer a deal and when not to,” Neil Ackerman, a former Amazon executive, told Bloomberg. “These algorithms that take in thousands of inputs and are always running [are] smarter than any human.”

The upshot: As it became clear that software was going to do more of the heavy lifting for Amazon’s retail business, human workers saw the writing on the wall. Instead of sticking around at jobs that were becoming marginalized, many left or found work elsewhere in the company. Some former employees have even gotten gigs helping brands navigate Amazon’s new automated system.