Amazon to Acquire Kiva Systems

By Jason Boog Comment

In a $775 million deal, Amazon will acquire Kiva Systems, a company that creates robotic tools for warehouses. The Fast Company video embedded above illustrates how Kiva robots work in a warehouse.

Will these new tools cut jobs? In his chilling essay, “Robots in 2015,” author Marshall Brain sees this new generation of robots as causing major unemployment problems in a few years. Check it out:

Competitive pressure will force Wal-mart, K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, Toys R Us, Sears, J.C. Penny’s, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Max, Staples, Office Depot, Kroger’s, Winn-Dixie, Pet Depot and so on to adopt the same robotic inventory systems in their stores. The entire transition will happen in just five years or so. Any company that does not automate will be at such a pricing disadvantage that it will go out of business. Ten million unemployed workers dumped onto the job market over the course of five years will have a profound effect on the unemployment statistics in the United States. The problem is that this same sort of thing will be happening in every sector of the economy at a very rapid pace, dumping millions more unemployed workers onto the job market at the same time.

The International Federation of Robotics takes a more positive outlook on robotics in the American workforce. They commissioned a study in 2011, arguing that robotics will create  to be 3.6 for every robot deployed.

Here’s more:

One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs, the study concluded. A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world … between 2000-2008, manufacturing employment increased in nearly every major industrialised country, even as the use of robotics increased sharply.  This same pattern is now being seen in China, Brazil, and other emerging countries as they rapidly increase their use of robotics.  In Brazil, the number of robots almost quadrupled during the study period with both production and employment rising by over 20%. The Report found that manufacturing employment is stronger in countries that continue to accelerate their robot investments.

What do you think? Can the work generated both directly and indirectly by robots ever replace job loses?