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The Hill

Employees are not showing up to work — employers are replacing them with robots

By October 26, 2021No Comments

(This article originally appeared in The Hill)

It’s the “Great Resignation,” and many workers seem to prefer not coming in to work. Employers are increasingly obliging them. How? By eliminating their jobs altogether.

A recent survey from Verizon of more than 600 U.S. small businesses found that 30 percent have already adopted digital tools to help compensate for a shortage of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Think this is short term? It’s not. As the cost of these technologies rapidly decline, both big and small companies are making significant investments in software and hardware that is helping to eliminate what is for many their biggest headache: people. For obvious reasons, businesses don’t like to talk about how they’re eliminating employees with automation. But it’s happening. Yes, it’s happening.

In retail, for example, supermarket chain Hy-Vee announced that it is testing shelf-scanning inventory management robots in its stores, while ShopRite is piloting robotic delivery. Amazon is quietly rolling out thousands of self-service grocery stores manned by a skeleton staff of workers to restock shelves — until they’re eventually replaced by robots. Airport retailer Hudson is using Amazon’s technology to automate its locations.

In the United Kingdom, supermarket giant Tesco has come up with its own“walkout store” to compete against Amazon. Pennsylvania convenience store chain Wawa has added self-checkouts to dozens of its stores with plans to make this permanent across all locations.

Make no mistake: These self-service technologies eliminate workers. That’s why retailers are jumping on this trend. The same goes for the restaurant industry. Owners there are finding themselves at ground zero of the Great Resignation. So, they’re also doing their part to help their employees find employment, somewhere else.

According to a recent New York Times report, many are turning to robots to “make French fries, mixed drinks and even clean toilets, and they never ask for a raise” (or complain about Dave Chappelle). A Connecticut seafood chain says it will soon have as many as five robotic “servers” programmed to “bring food out to tables and dirty dishes back to the dishwasher station.” A California eatery now offers robot-served Japanese food. A robot that makes pizzas is replacing workers while another company prospers as it sells robotic arms that make everything from burgers to salads to sushi. These companies know one thing for sure: Robotic servers and robotic arms show up for work every day.

Dave & Buster’s recently announced that its locations are using contactless ordering, a move that has allowed them to “expand the size of server sections and reduce staffing levels to be more efficient” (translation: fewer workers). McDonalds is testing an automated, voice-recognition based drive-thru ordering system at 10 of its Chicago locations that will reduce to one in five the number of orders that workers have to complete.

And reduce the number of people taking orders too, of course. (Shhhh.)

On the factory floor, robots are doing all the work at Nissan’s “intelligent plant,” with an executive from the company gushing how “up to now, people had to make production adjustments through experience, but now robots with artificial intelligence, analyzing collected data, are able to do it.”

Tech company Boston Dynamics has developed “ Spot,” which has been used to do “inspections at construction sites, oil rigs, nuclear plants, check the vital signs of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, and even remind people to maintain social distance amid the pandemic.” Spot has a new sibling called “ Stretch,” which can handle a “large variety of boxes and shrink-wrapped cases” and has special technology that can recognize different kinds of packages and move up to 800 cases an hour, which is “equivalent to a human employee.” Bye, bye, OSHA. See ya later, unions.

Transportation and warehouse workers as well as truck drivers better double-check their savings too. That’s because Ford, Argo and Walmart are bringing robo-delivery to Miami, Austin and Washington, D.C., and Walgreens and Google are teaming up to offer drone deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Delivery service Grubhub is rolling out robots to deliver pizza across 250 colleges in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kenco Logistics Services, a Tennessee-based logistics provider, is “rolling out a fleet” of self-driving vehicles like autonomous tractors that tow carts loaded with pallets in order to “bridge a labor gap by helping workers fill online orders.” Companies such as Inceptioand Maven are working on autonomous, self-driving trucks that don’t require downtime, don’t drink beer are safer and save energy too.

In financial services, companies like Clearco are part of a growing industrythat offers loans to small businesses with virtually no human input, relying “entirely on algorithms to decide which businesses to give money to, how much to offer and what the terms of the deal should be.” Meanwhile, TD Bank recently joined the crowded robo-financial-adviser space with a new offering “that requires just $5,000 in assets to open an account and fees as low as 0.3 percent.”

For the companies still actually employing people, many are doing so by using artificial intelligence-powered virtual recruiting tools and offering mental health benefits powered by chat bots. According to a recent report, 75 percent of U.S. employers (rising to 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies) are using interviewing and other recruiting technology “in response to a rise in digital job applications from the ’90s onwards. Technology has made it easier for people to apply for jobs, but also easier for companies to reject them.”

By the way, remember those governments that are trying to help the working class? Maybe not so much. Singapore has deployed robots to patrol public areas to “keep an eye out for rule breakers, including those who flout their COVID-19 safety measures.” Crewless vessels are mapping the ocean thanks to an Irish startup. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is eliminating hundreds of jobs with its new automated toll collection technologies.

Ever heard of the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) community? That’s a U.S. government service that helps government agencies “overcome the technical, management, and operational challenges that arise in designing and deploying an effective RPA program” so people can be eliminated. Even government workers aren’t immune from replacement anymore.

Do you get it, people? Your “ghosting,” quitting and unreliable behavior is now paying off. Your demands for higher pay, more time off, increased benefits and a greater say in how your employers conduct their businesses are being answered. Your complaints, whistleblowing and public shaming of your employer (deserved or not) is now having its effect.

How? You’re being replaced by machines. So, congratulations: Soon you’ll be able to work from home for as long as you desire.

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