From delivery drones to warehouse robots, Amazon has made no attempt to hide its ambitious goals for automation. Even as the company continues to hire thousands of new employees, increasing its employee numbers by about 40 percent over the last year, many jobs are also being filled by autonomous counterparts. An analysis published Monday by Quartz has found that the e-commerce giant’s large growth and hiring numbers do not mitigate the overall retail job losses that it helped cause. Because of Amazon’s investment in automation and robotic employees, the combined employment at Amazon and related retail companies will still decline by a net 24,000 jobs.
Back in 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, the warehouse robotics company, to help automate its order fulfillment operations. By 2015, when we paid a visit to an Amazon fulfillment center, human-robot symbiosis was floourishing as 2,000 orange robots worked alongside humans to keep shelves stocked. Then last year Amazon signed a deal with the U.K. to test delivery drones and made its first package delivery via drone.
Now, with 2017 drawing to a close, Amazon has added a dizzying 55,000 robots to its fleet, more than doubling its total number of robo-workers from 2016. Quartz’s estimates suggest that by the end of the year robots could make up 20 percent of the company’s workforce. As Amazon would no doubt point out, the company is indeed hiring at a blistering pace—and automation can have many large-scale benefits. But as we’ve argued before, the tricky part is making sure those benefits are evenly distributed.