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26 May, 2016

Expanding rapidly: Human labor force eliminated by robots

260516 Monitoring AI and hyper-automation

Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has reportedly replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. From BBC :

One factory has "reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots", a government official told the South China Morning Post. Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, added: "More companies are likely to follow suit."

China is investing heavily in a robot workforce. In a statement to the BBC, Foxconn Technology Group confirmed that it was automating "many of the manufacturing tasks associated with our operations" but denied that it meant long-term job losses.

[...]

Since September 2014, 505 factories across Dongguan, in the Guangdong province, have invested 4.2bn yuan (£430m) in robots, aiming to replace thousands of workers.

[...]

Economists have issued dire warnings about how automation will affect the job market, with one report, from consultants Deloitte in partnership with Oxford University, suggesting that 35% of jobs were at risk over the next 20 years.

Former McDonald's chief executive Ed Rensi recently told the US's Fox Business programme a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour would make companies consider robot workers. "It's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries," he said.

Adidas unveils new factory in Germany that will use machines to make shoes instead of humans in Asia. From Guardian :

Adidas, the German maker of sportswear and equipment, has announced it will start marketing its first series of shoes manufactured by robots in Germany from 2017.

More than 20 years after Adidas ceased production activities in Germany and moved them to Asia, chief executive Herbert Hainer unveiled to the press the group’s new prototype “Speedfactory” in Ansbach, southern Germany. The 4,600-square-metre plant is still being built but Adidas opened it to the press, pledging to automate shoe production – which is currently done mostly by hand in Asia – and enable the shoes to be made more quickly and closer to its sales outlets.

[...]

Large-scale production will begin in 2017 and Adidas was planning a second “Speed Factory” in the United States in the same year, said Hainer.

[...]

In the longer term Adidas is planning to build robot-operated factories in Britain or in France, and could even produce the shirts of Germany’s national football team in its home country, said Hainer. The shoes made in Germany would sell at a similar price to those produced in Asia, he said.

Adidas is facing rising production costs in Asia where it employs around one million workers. Arch-rival Nike is also developing its robot-operated factory.

Totally confirmed what has been already reported two years ago:

Yanis Varoufakis in his article "What if the capital of future doesn't need us?", describes what he saw in Austin-Texas and what that means:

While I was watching from my window in Austin-Texas, I saw a big cloud of dust deep in horizon. Two days ago, I was walking in that area and I was surprised by the view of the big factory where bulldozers and machines were continuously working, producing the dust. From the front side of the building under construction it was obvious that (fortunately) they were not building a new trade center or apartment blocks. No, it was a big industrial center.”

Although I didn't notice it the first time, after a few seconds I realised that something was missing from this factory: people! Specifically, I counted three. All of them were wearing helmets and protection suits and were located in a small office in a space outside with a few computers, while they were covered by a tent like those used by the army. Ten bulldozers, three cranes and more or less ten moving tools, at least from what I could see, were moving without drivers, operators, workers generally.”

When I returned to my office, I went straight to find a colleague who knows well what's going on. He informed me that the workplace I saw, was the new factory of Apple to produce MacBook Pro. It was true that, it was constructed through almost complete automatization. The materials had been selected through a way with which, the automatic machines - therefore robots connected to eachother through a local wireless network (intranet) - to be able to construct without human interference - even the hydraulic structure of the building will be constructed by plumpers-robots. A factory that under normal conditions should employ thousands of workers is functioning with the presence of less than one hundred souls.”

I asked him about the move of Apple to produce computers in America, by bringing back in the US the production from China for the first time after decades. 'How's that?' And the answer was the expected one, although quite impressive: 'Wages are of no importance. The export of productive processes from America to China (off-shoring) was only an intermediate stage. The production has returned to America, but not the jobs. The new factory of Apple, not only is constructed without American workers' sweat, but will also produce MacBook Pro through complete automatization, without hiring Texans. Welcome to the New, Brave World', ended with a smile, referring obviously to the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley.”

Coming faster than we thought:

The general conclusions from the report The Future of Jobs, of the 2016 World Economic Forum, leave little room for optimistic thoughts about the future. They reflect what already most of us have realized: that the combination of the current socio-economic model with the rapid hyper-automation of production, lead to further imbalance and inequality in favor of the very few. [...] The study estimates that there will be no “widespread societal upheaval—at least up until the year 2020”, due to the takeover of jobs by artificial intelligence, but is this realy a reason not to worry seriously? Think about it: 2020 is only four years from now! Say, at the end of the new US presidency.

On the occasion of a latest report by Oxfam:

... the loss of jobs in other sectors due to hyper-automation creates oversupply of available workforce. The machines are pushing towards a fierce competition between the workers who seek desperately for a job in sectors that are still occupied by human labor. But this is only an intermediate stage as robots will soon occupy these positions too. [...] The description in Oxfam's report is characteristic. Humans are denied even basic needs and pushed towards robotic behavior. The phrase “Workers are reduced to pieces of the machine, little more than the body parts that hang, cut, trim, and load ...”, shows characteristically that workers in the US do not have to compete with other cheap labor abroad anymore, but with a workforce which appears to be unbeatable: hyper-automated machines.

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