During the Pandemic, Will Robots Take Over More Human Jobs?


    An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Before the pandemic, automation had been gradually replacing human work in a range of jobs, from call centers to warehouses and grocery stores, as companies looked to cut labor costs and improve profit. But labor and robotics experts said social distancing directives, which are likely to continue in some form after the crisis subsides, could prompt more industries to accelerate their use of automation. And long-simmering worries about job losses or a broad unease about having machines control vital aspects of daily life could dissipate as society sees the benefits of restructuring workplaces in ways that minimize close human contact. “Pre-pandemic, people might have thought we were automating too much,” said Richard Pak, a professor at Clemson University who researches the psychological factors around automation. “This event is going to push people to think what more should be automated….” Brain Corp, a San Diego company that makes software used in automated floor cleaners, said retailers were using the cleaners 13% more than they were just two months ago. The “autonomous floor care robots” are doing about 8,000 hours of daily work “that otherwise would have been done by an essential worker,” the company said. At supermarkets like Giant Eagle, robots are freeing up employees who previously spent time taking inventory to focus on disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces and processing deliveries to keep shelves stocked. Retailers insist the robots are augmenting the work of employees, not replacing them. But as the panic buying ebbs and sales decline in the recession that is expected to follow, companies that reassigned workers during the crisis may no longer have a need for them…. Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies labor markets, said that with companies hurting for cash, the pressure to replace humans with machines becomes even more intense. “People become more expensive as companies’ revenues decline,” he said. A new wave of automation could also mean that when companies start hiring again, they do so in smaller numbers. “This may be one of those situations when automation does substantially depress rehiring,” Muro said. “You may see fewer workers when the recovery does come.” Even YouTube had said it’s “temporarily” relying more heavily on machines to moderate its videos. “This means automated systems will start removing some content without human review.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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