Tuesday, August 2, 2011

1 Million New Robots to Enter Global Workforce

Foxconn has announced a plan to replace a portion of its human workforce with up to 1 million robots.  Foxconn is the Chinese company where there has been a spate of employee suicides amidst slave-like conditions; it's also where many iPhones and other electronic devices are manufactured.  This is what globalization and "trickle-down" economics consist of.  A large portion of Americans used to be employed in manufacturing.  When they got too expensive and uppity, they were replaced by Mexican labor, then the cheap Mexican workers were replaced by the even cheaper Chinese, and now, the Chinese are beginning to be replaced by robots.  Robots don't need housing or health care or food, and will never complain about rights or take breaks (although it'd make a neat plot for some sci-fi film).  I sometimes think that a population shortage is in the offing not just because of resource scarcity, but also because of the marginalization of low-level jobs to the automation. 

I will end this with a personal story that will hopefully highlight the potential absurdity of automation.  I was with my brother at Lowe's last week; Lowe's is a chain big-box hardware store, like the Home Depot.  Lowe's has several "self check-out" counters, which I see is a growing trend in many stores.  My brother got a few gloves, and upon seeing the lines at the human check-out lanes, goes to the self-check out counter.  He scans and pays for the stuff, and all the while, there is an employee feet away from us, just looking at us to ensure that we aren't stealing.  The point of automation is to cut down on labor costs, yet I'm assuming that for every self-check out lane at Lowe's, there is an employee who is detailed to observe the people who are using it.  So what's the point of self-check out?  Why not just use that employee as an extra hand to check people out?  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

in most of the self checkouts that I see there is one assistant for four lanes, so that's a saving of 75%.

The person is not there to stop you stealing, but to help when the self checkout can't