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Big Technology

The question isn’t what’s going to get automated. It’s what’s going to get automated last.

Elaine Kwon

OneZero is partnering with the Big Technology Podcast from Alex Kantrowitz to bring readers exclusive access to interview transcripts — edited for length and clarity — with notable figures in and around the tech industry.

To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

As I wrote Always Day One, my book about tech giant culture, I learned of a massive automation program inside Amazon’s corporate offices called Hands…

Agility Robotics created a robot that could walk up stairs and carry boxes. But the main complaint from customers? It didn’t have a face.

The robot Digit. Photo: Agility Robotics

The robot Digit stands approximately five feet, four inches high, with a metallic torso the teal color of a hospital worker’s scrubs. It can walk up and down staircases and around corners on two legs, and lift, carry, and stack boxes up to 40 pounds with arms whose hinges evoke the broad shoulders of a swimmer.

Agility Robotics, Digit’s manufacturer, shipped roughly 30 of these robots earlier this year to industrial and academic clients. …

No One’s Driving

Vast systems, from automated supply chains to high-frequency trading, now undergird our daily lives — and we’re losing control of all of them

A photo collage of a shipping dock, a graph of a stock market activity, and an automated warehouse
Photo illustration, sources: Jesper Klausen/Science Photo Library/Sukanya Sitthikongsak/yoh4nn/Getty Images

Welcome to No One’s Driving — a column by novelist and tech writer Tim Maughan about how to understand a world governed by systems and technologies that are spiraling out of control.

One of the dominant themes of the last few years is that nothing makes sense. Donald Trump is president, QAnon has mainstreamed fringe conspiracy theories, and hundreds of thousands are dead from a pandemic and climate change while many Americans do not believe that the pandemic or climate change are deadly. It’s incomprehensible.

I am here to tell you that the reason so much of the world seems…

As robotization scales up, so do injuries

Photo: Philippe Lopez/Getty Images

For the last decade, Amazon has been on an automation spree. The retail behemoth is mechanizing its warehouses, buying up robotics companies, and transforming its facilities into state-of-the-art, semi-automated distribution centers. The goal is clear enough: to move, sort, and ship products to customers as fast as inhumanly possible — to vastly improve operational efficiency. This is always the aim when companies adopt industrial automation, of course, but it comes with a downside: People tend to get worried about the robots.

Since long before the term “robot” was even coined, workers have been justifiably concerned that machines would pose a…

What the experience taught me about automating the hiring process

An Amazon Fulfillment Center sign and building located in Sacramento, CA.
Photo: Andrei Stanescu/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus

A few weeks ago, I had just completed an application to work in a warehouse for Amazon. I had watched a video and completed a quiz showing that I knew that to stow items — heavy goes on the bottom, light goes on top. About 20 minutes later, Amazon emailed me that I had the job at the shift I desired. The email said to come into the warehouse recruiting office in Baltimore to take a photo for my ID and have my official documents, like my social security number and passport, ready to be scanned.

I was conflicted. It…

As restaurants, bars, and local shops close down, platform-based monoliths are vacuuming up customers and jobs

A photo of a woman in an Amazon factory putting packages on the queue line.
A woman works at a packing station at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York City, on February 5, 2019. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

There are always parties who profit in times of crisis, and so it goes with our ever-accelerating global pandemic. For toilet paper manufacturers and supermarket chains and, say, a pair of grifter brothers hawking Purell at an obscene markup, the coronavirus has been good for business. But the biggest beneficiaries in the long term may be Amazon and the tech companies that follow its lead.

On Monday, the online retailer announced it was hiring a staggering 100,000 workers at $17 an hour minimum — $2 higher than usual — to help meet the exploding demand from socially distant shoppers. Much…

Reasonable Doubt

Automation is creeping into the courtroom, and it’s going to change the way we think about the law

Illustration: Robert Beatty

In 1970, Lyudmila Terentyevna Aleksandrova lost her right hand. It happened at work, where she was employed by the Russian state. With her hand gone, she fought for a disability allowance that never materialized, batted about by district and regional courts. Eventually, after decades of frustration, she brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2007 that there had been a violation in Aleksandrova’s right to a fair trial. Pay the money, it told Russia.

A judgment about Aleksandrova and her missing right hand was also made in 2016 — not by a human, but…

In a world of automation and algorithms, human authenticity will be worth more and more

Illustration by Jess Ebsworth

The saving grace of the approaching robot jobpocalypse might be that nobody, yet, is taking it literally. The regular flare-ups of the “immigrants are taking your jobs” rhetoric has led to actual hate crimes, but even amidst exaggeration around the automation of millions of jobs, no one has yet, to my knowledge, taken a vengeful sledgehammer to a router. Which isn’t to say people aren’t taking the possibility seriously that their careers with be automated out of existence

“My job will be obsolete because of robots within five years,” one software developer friend told me. “Oh, not necessarily…” I started…

Let robots do the drudge work. Give workers a basic income.

Credit: imaginima/E+/Getty

For decades, you’ve been told to fear automation. Robots are stealing factory jobs; self-checkouts are gutting the service sector; artificial intelligence will replace even the most skilled laborers with whip-smart algorithms. The economy will grow, but you’ll be out of work.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks it doesn’t have to be that way. “We should be excited about automation,” Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist and one of the sponsors of the Green New Deal, told an audience at the South by Southwest conference in March. “The reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t…

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