On the Impact of Automation (Mark Zuckerberg, Best Buy, Retail and more) / by FPM Team

  • Last week Mark Zuckerberg said, during his Harvard University commencement speech, “Our generation will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks. But we have the potential to do so much more together. Every generation has its defining works. More than 300,000 people worked to put a man on the moon – including that janitor. Millions of volunteers immunized children around the world against polio. Millions of more people built the Hoover dam and other great projects. These projects didn't just provide purpose for the people doing those jobs, they gave our whole country a sense of pride that we could do great things.” 
  • Also, the report “Retail Automation: Stranded Workers? Opportunities and risks for labor and automation” by the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute said “The impact of significant reductions in retail workers may mirror the impact of manufacturing job losses. Retail sales at brick-and-mortar stores … are increasingly constrained as consumers shift to online shopping. At the same time, many parts of the country are experiencing upward structural wage pressure as concerns about income inequality are gaining political traction. Major retailers, including Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and WalMart, have collectively closed hundreds of stores over the last few years in attempts to stem losses from unprofitable stores. These headwinds are pushing retailers to rethink the traditional retail business model … this report argues that companies which use technology to support their workers are likely to benefit from long-term productivity gains. However, technology also has the potential to automate part of the sales process and render a range of jobs redundant. Taken together, store closures and automation technology have the potential to accelerate job losses in retail, an industry that employs approximately 10% of the total US labor force.”
  • During its quarterly investor conference call, Best Buy Chief Financial Officer Corie Barry said, "We believe there’s real opportunity to take waste out of the system through automation and there are places like our supply chain, there are places like some of our call centers, where we believe we have real opportunities to become more automated.”

OUR TAKE

  • While workplace automation is part of the pursuit of "faster/better/cheaper" solutions, current advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, etc may increase the pace of labor displacement.
  • Issues for technology, business and community leaders to address include 1) how worker adaptation will be managed 2) how broadly will economic benefits be distributed and 3) how educational systems adjust to marketplace changes.