The new, cruel robot overlords
The Wall Street Journal
“It’s time to stop worrying that robots will take our jobs—and start worrying that they will decide who gets jobs,” said Greg Ip. Companies like General Electric and Goldman Sachs routinely cut underperformers. But that’s less alarming than a recent report in TheVerge.com that Amazon enlists computers that “track the productivity of its employees and regularly fire those who underperform.” We already use artificial intelligence for managerial tasks, such as screening résumés and assigning projects. Technology is also used by industrial laundry services to log “how many seconds it takes to press a laundered shirt,” and by major discount retailers to “report if the cashier is scanning items quickly enough.” So “perhaps it was only a matter of time before software was used to fire people.” The ruthlessness seems to work: Studies show that hiring and firing employees more aggressively yields faster productivity growth. But the rising “wage inequality doesn’t fully capture how unequal work has become.” The risk of losing a senior job at GE or Goldman “is more than compensated for by the reward of stimulating and challenging work and handsome paychecks.” The same can’t be said of employment at industrial laundromats and Amazon warehouses, where work is repetitive, the pay is low, and the robot overlords have arrived.