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Amazon says fully automated shipping warehouses are at least a decade away
According to Scott Anderson, the company’s director of robotics fulfillment, the point at which an Amazon warehouse is fully, end-to-end automated is at least 10 years away. Erson’s comments, reported today by Reuters, highlight the current pace of automation, even in environments that are ripe for robotic labor, like an Amazon warehouse. To get the robot to do something else takes expensive, time-consuming reprogramming. So while a robot can help manufacture a microchip and the body of a Tesla motor vehicle, it’s not capable of doing human tasks that warehouse work requires. At Amazon facilities and other companies’ fulfillment centers, a bulk of the labor is still largely done by human hands, because it’s difficult to train robots to see the world and use robotic grippers with the dexterity of human workers.
As part of the ongoing deep learning revolution that’s accelerated the progress of AI research over the last decade, robots are starting to gain levels of vision and motor control that are approaching human-levels of sophistication. Amazon is one of the companies pioneering such robots, and it’s held an annual so-called picking challenge, after the warehouse term from picking up one object to move it to another part of the logistics chain, to promote advances in the field. UC Berkeley has a robotics lab that’s made substantial progress in the field, and its new low-cost robot, a pair of humanoid arms controlled by a central system called Blue, can perform complex manual tasks like the folding of a towel thanks to an AI-powered vision system. Research lab OpenAI has similarly been using an AI training technique known as reinforcement learning to teach a robotic hand more precise and elegant movements, the types of motion that would be required of a robot to replicate a human in a warehouse. According to Reuters, Amazon has 110 warehouses in the US, 45 sorting centers, and roughly 50 delivery stations, all of which employ more than 125,000 full-time warehouse workers.
Only a fraction of that work is performed by robots. Robots are simply too imprecise and clumsy and require too much training to be deployed on factory floors outside very narrow use cases.
Millions Of Jobs Have Been Lost To Automation. Economists Weigh In On What To Do About It
Artificial Intelligence and automation promise to usher in a new era of inexpensive goods, effortless personalization, and freedom from tedium. To discuss how to wrangle in exponential technological changes without breaking the economy as we know it. Shelley Peterson, Lockheed’s Head of Emerging Technologies, reported that the preliminary use cases result in over 90% reduction in touch labor, turning what once took multiple techs multiple shifts into work that one person can do in a matter of hours. Efficiency improvements, automation, and shifts to lower priced labor markets must be embraced by countries looking for competitive advantage. They must go hand in hand with mechanisms that support displaced workers.
Workers without a college degree are particularly at risk. As production met automation and moved overseas, the broader citizenry enjoyed cheaper products while large sectors of the workforce were left with a loss of livelihood. Harvard Fellow in Technology and Public Purpose Susan Winterberg shared that laid-off workers typically see a permanent 17-30% reduction in wages when they return to the workforce. Disenfranchised workers are rightfully angry and express it with their vote. Both Republican and Democrat districts that were heavily impacted by automation and outsourcing tended to oust moderate congressional representatives in favor of more conservative or liberal ones, respectively.
MIT Sloan Professor Paul Osterman recommends tapping into America’s 1,600 community colleges to reskill displaced workers, as these institutions effectively yield large wage increases for students. Rather than fight technology, we should embrace it and prepare workers whose fields move overseas or are learned by robots.
Google Docs gets an API for task automation – TechCrunch
As Google notes, the REST API was designed to help developers build workflow automation services for their users, build content management services and create documents in bulk. Using the API, developers can also set up processes that manipulate documents after the fact to update them, and the API also features the ability to insert, delete, move, merge and format text, insert inline images and work with lists, among other things. The canonical use case here is invoicing, where you need to regularly create similar documents with ever-changing order numbers and line items based on information from third-party systems. Google also notes that the API’s import/export abilities allow you to use Docs for internal content management systems. Some of the companies that built solutions based on the new API during the preview period include Zapier, Netflix, Mailchimp and Final Draft.
Zapier integrated the Docs API into its own workflow automation tool to help its users create offer letters based on a template, for example, while Netflix used it to build an internal tool that helps its engineers gather data and automate its documentation workflow.
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