Epiphanies arrive unannounced. Mine was served up recently in front of the Pickup Tower at the Moscow Walmart.
This was my debut. I pressed the barcode to the reader while feigning a sense of composure; I was waiting for my order to be fulfilled – a 40 lb. bag of birdseed was to be beamed into my cart from some robotic angel above, one that I suspect isn’t getting health benefits.
I tried to keep the faith while striking a conversation with a gentleman, he more frantic than I, also in wait for his order – a game for his grandchildren. It wasn’t materializing either.
“We must have pissed-off the robot,” I chided. “If we can track down my birdseed, I’ll bet your game will be there with it.”
He was having none of it. Intently tapping his phone screen, he held it up to my face. “I got 30 seconds to respond to this order or it goes to the next guy.” He explained that his retirement includes a side-job delivering for DoorDash.
I mumbled something, shook my head and glanced back up at the tower (the likeness of Kubrick’s Monolith), my ears anticipating the thud of birdseed. Nothing – except that is, the towering irony playing out.
Deutsche Bank recently axed 25,000 employees. A bank on its knees, drowning in debt, whose losses may spark the next global financial meltdown – and its head of operations is glorifying their newly deployed robots that have “massively increased productivity” and saved “680,000 hours of manual work.” The bank’s wordsmithing department says they’ve “redistributed capacity.”
Our robotic angels showering their blessings.
And there are blessings to be had with the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence (AI). But just as Asia handed American blue-collar factory employees the short straw two generations ago – which left unions stunned and still self-medicating, our brilliant robot recruits are gunning for those with white collars housed in cubicles.
And they’ve taken aim. Are you handsomely paid for your analytical skills, for connecting the data points that lead to major decisions? Well, I am sure your PowerPoints are first class, but Hal does it better, and without coffee breaks and a pension plan.
According to author of “The Second Machine Age,” MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, “There’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.”
He isn’t so much referring to the money center bank’s credit analysts and derivatives traders that are indeed being made redundant, as much as corporate middle managers at distribution centers, market research firms, insurance conglomerates, etc. Apparently, they are clogging the arteries of the global value chain and getting in the way of what Tye Brady, Head of Amazon Robotics, refers to as our “ability, through automation and robotics, to change the real world.”
He sees this “beautiful symphony” between people and machines, with robots “helping humans lead more purposeful lives.” Gosh darn – I must have missed that memo!
Needless to say, our next generation of engineering whiz kids are the big winners in this game. By the way, if you aren’t of this breed, plan on marrying one.
About that epiphany. My corporate career was flush with technology and I’m still in awe of it – true enough. Of the human intellect though: I find it vastly overrated. You see, I finally got my birdseed. A sympathetic customer service rep in a blue vest wheeled it to me on a handcart. Our eyes met, and she apologized.
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Resist News: https://www.usresistnews.org/