Blog: AI can Automatically Fire Low-Productivity Workers
Just ask Amazon E-commerce warehouse workers
The idea of an AI system being able to fire a human worker who doesn’t reach targets sounds like the stuff of sci-fi nightmare scenarios.
The problem is in 2019, it’s come true.
Amazon’s fulfillment center workers are under intense pressure to “make rate,” or meet productivity targets, The Verge reports.
No human supervision required, AI-powered systems can feel a bit oppressive or is this just the new normal in a more automated world?
AI Surveillance Can Decide When We are Fired
- Amazon’s warehouse-worker tracking system can automatically pick people to fire without a human supervisor’s involvement.
- Amazon has been under fire for year in how it treats its seasonal and part-time workforce including working conditions.
Although supervisors can override the process, and Amazon automates tracking of the number of boxes packed as well as warnings or terminations over quality.
But what kind of a world do we really want to live in? Apparently in this case, workers have been known to skip bathroom breaks in order to meet quotas. That sounds a bit harsh, AI overlords! Jeff Bezos I’m sure is aware.
It’s the futurist equivalent of getting broken up with in a text. The problem is its a machine. That is, it’s a grim glimpse of a future in which AI is your boss — and you’re disposable.
Ethics and Worker’s Rights in the Age of Automation
Welcome to the new and improved age of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, frankly a word that should make you uncomfortable simply by saying it out loud.
Do we want to treat humans like things? Do we want smart machines to always be watching? Where is the law and regulation with regards to human rights in the work place?
- Amazon confirmed that it fired hundreds of people for productivity reasons in just one facility over one year’s time.
- Male bias in how AI tools function is no big secret, but what kind of an HR department would approve such a feature? We have to question scenarios that puts the entire future of the worker at risk.
Human Resources is increasingly integrating Artificial Intelligence
I get it you know, saving costs and efficiency and all that jazz. Amazon’s fulfillment centers are gigantic engine of the company — massive warehouses where workers track, pack, sort, and shuffle each order before sending it on its way to the buyer’s door. These are the bottom-feeders, the grinders, the pawns — but they are people.
Critics say those fulfillment center workers face strenuous conditions: workers are pressed to “make rate,” with some packing hundreds of boxes per hour, and losing their job if they don’t move fast enough.
In the automation economy of AI, do we want a surveillance capitalism that dehumanizes us? We have to think seriously what artificial intelligence and an Internet of Things 4th industrial revolution really means to the quality our environments and experiences.
Do we just want smart cities that are convenient, at any cost?
It’s chilling as we make the transition to an AI and data based economy. For instance, while obviously not every decision was made by a computer system, the documents — including a signed letter by an Amazon attorney describing the system — reveal how deeply automated the process really is. It’s not clear whether Amazon is still using the system.
Amazon operates more than 75 fulfillment centers with more than 125,000 full-time employees, suggesting thousands lose their jobs with the company annually for failing to move packages quickly enough. Increasingly AI is being used in job recruiting and HR, it seems how we might turn out is also being automated.
The Future of Work is a Surveillance Architecture
Amazon’s demanding culture of worker productivity has been revealed in multiple investigations and it’s fascinating how much consumers trust it regardless.
Realistically firms like Facebook and Amazon can endure fines and distrust, because they are so embedded in our lives they are like Google, they have become like a basic utility in our daily lives.
In a world of connected data however, Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity. That the system automatically generates warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors is not really that surprising. In China Alibaba and JD.com are stirring a viral ‘996’ debate, and there’s multiple companies selling the next-gen Fitbits for workers.
In the future of work, we might just have to accept that to be monitored and supervised by robots and AIs will just become the new normal.
Hello there Boss Machine, I will do my utmost not to displease you.
Amazon’s system also tracks a metric called “time off task,” meaning how much time workers pause or take breaks. Sounds like an AI overlord to me.
Assuming a steady rate, the data in the Verge story suggestions Amazon was firing more than 10 percent of its staff annually (at the Baltimore facility), solely for productivity reasons. It would sort of suck not to automate that. There’s an AI for that.