Forget the media focus on Amazon’s promised new ‘delivery drones’. The biggest threat to us isn’t these little drones growing up into Terminator style killers to hunt us down. The more likely and imminent threat they represent is an economic one.
The ‘delivery drones’ put up by Amazon probably aren’t ever going to happen in anything more than a token way. We all know why and this article in City AM spells it out.
What do they do represent is a way of thinking about the work and the jobs in the distribution industry. Jobs that are managed as low value, low skilled ones that need to be automated and ultimately for the humans involved to be replaced by some machinery.
The people working in these jobs need to work like robots to keep their jobs, having to complete computer generated picking lists in a specified time or facing the consequences if they don’t. The harsh life in these warehouses was fully exposed by three recent great pieces of journalism:
1) The BBC Panorama investigation into Amazon in the UK:
2) The Observer / Guardian undercover investigation also into Amazon in the UK:
3) The Mother Jones undercover investigation into Amalgamated in Mississippi:
Whether you look at one or all three of these pieces, the conclusions are pretty much the same. The conditions are hard, pressurised and ultimately people are treated like machines. The competition for these workers isn’t the next low age economy but increasing automation. Yes, even plans to replace your postman with a delivery drone.
In the journey up to and beyond the singularity, the point at which our technology becomes more intelligent than us, this is our most imminent threat. The economic displacement of a large chunk of society. The bar will raise continuously on what can be automated, blue collar jobs today, admin jobs tomorrow and then professional jobs. How we deal with this challenge will be a key determinant if most humans, outside of a tiny elite, win or lose.
In the meantime, don’t get stressed about it play the drone / tax game!