Amazon’s Robotic Workforce

This week we take a hiatus from the Bizarre Author Deaths series to evaluate developments at surging retail behemoth, Amazon.  As many of you know I have previously written a number of posts on Amazon related matters, including their increasing dominance, Asian expansion and their so-called war against publishing.  Today’s post is about Amazon’s workforce.

As with most large corporations, Amazon’s workplace practices have on occasion been lambasted.  Only this week the company received negative publicity in the lead up to its busiest time of year, with workers going on strike over pay at two distribution centres in Germany (Leipzig & Bad Hersfeld).

Amazon5 copyFortunately such disruption may soon be a thing of the past for Amazon, with last year’s deployment of 1,382 robotic staff members a sign of things to come.  I am of course referring to real robots not staff allegedly made to feel like robots, such as young undercover reporter Adam Littler, purportedly forced to walk 11 miles during a ten and a half hour shift in a Swansea based Amazon work camp.

It is hardly surprising that head Amazon cyborg, Jeff Bezos, should have such an interest in his fellow kind.  After all this is the man/cyborg/robot/bionic being, who was described by former subordinate Steve Yegge as a:

‘hyper-intelligent alien with a tangential interest in human affairs.”

Bezos’s personal fascination in robots extends far beyond the $775 million Amazon paid to buy Kiva Systems, the company responsible for building Amazon’s robotic workforce.  Amazon’s head honcho has also reportedly invested $7m of his own funds in another robot venture, Heartland Robotics.  It would appear to be only a matter of time before further battalions of robots are deployed at Amazon distribution centres.

Robot1(A Kiva Robot – Courtesy of www.wired.co.uk)

Entertaining and eloquent in public, Amazon’s innovative leader is known not to suffer fools lightly in private.  Previous comments directed at employees (human ones), whose performances have fallen below his exacting standards, include:

   ‘Are you lazy or just incompetent?’

   ‘I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?’

With such disregard for human error, it seems little surprise that Bezos’s beloved Kiva robotic staff members signify a potential shift in the company’s hiring practices.

Robot2(Courtesy of www.singularityhub.com)

Last week in an attempt to investigate the latest update on the non-arrival of my Amazon book order, The Legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth (currently not in stock), I phoned Amazon.  As expected of the company that sets the benchmark in customer satisfaction, the call was picked up within two minutes.  The call was answered by a vaguely female sounding voice – mechanical in nature, devoid of the usual emotion and intonation one expects from human interaction.  My suspicions aroused I enquired if she was a Kiva robot.  Without pause she replied ‘no’, before continuing with the update on my order.  Still unconvinced, I remembered that there are instances of dogs thinking they are people and assuming the same might hold true for robots, I rephrased the question.

‘Are you orange, about a foot high and travel around on wheels?’

After a momentary pause she replied,

‘I’m not orange, but I’m about a foot high and yes I travel around on wheels.’

Aware that she might be referring to a wheel chair and not wishing to enter the shark infested waters that is disability discrimination, I quickly changed tack, returning the subject matter back to my missing order, having decided to leave robotic related enquiries for another day.  But I digress.

One of Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos’s, favourite phrases is reportedly,

‘Work hard, have fun, make history.’

The company are undoubtedly making history, but Bezos can also be rest assured that during Amazon’s busy festive period, his Kiva robots will not only be working hard, they will be having fun (unlike poor suffering Adam Littler).  The video below is of a battalion of Kiva robots, still brimming with festive cheer at the end of an arduous shift, putting on an impromptu display of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

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