×

Will Amazon Go replace jobs? 'I don't think we can stop it,' author says

Amazon's new concept convenience store doesn't just save money, it saves shoppers' time. That, however, is part of what makes the rise of the robots unstoppable, one expert said.

At a time when a growing number of observers have lamented the potential impact of growing automation on flesh and bone workers, the retail giant introduced something that may be a game-changer. On Monday, Amazon announced a new Seattle location, Amazon Go, that has no registers.

Instead, shoppers scan into the store with their free Amazon Go app, shop as normal, and leave the store with the items billed to their Amazon.com account.

"With Amazon, it's not just about reducing labor costs at all — they've come up with something disruptive," Martin Ford told CNBC's "Power Lunch" this week.

"I don't think there is anyone that doesn't hate standing in line at a retail store, and they've figured out a way to basically get rid of those lines," he said. "So this is something that is not just about eliminating jobs, it's going to create enormous advantages for consumers. So it's an inevitable process."

Amazon employees are pictured outside the Amazon Go brick-and-mortar grocery store without lines or checkout counters, in Seattle Washington, U.S. December 5, 2016.
Jason Redmond | Reuters
Amazon employees are pictured outside the Amazon Go brick-and-mortar grocery store without lines or checkout counters, in Seattle Washington, U.S. December 5, 2016.

It's unclear exactly how ambitious Amazon's expansion plans are for Amazon Go, but it faced immediate backlash as "the end of jobs."

"I don't think we can stop it," said Ford, the author of "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future." "It's a part of capitalism, that there's going to be this continuous drive for more efficiency."

Ford pointed out that retail salespersons and cashiers were among the occupations with highest employment in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor statistics data from earlier this year.

"What it leads to is more job destruction, and less job creation, especially for average typical people that don't necessarily have PhDs from MIT." -Martin Ford, Author of "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future."

"Manufacturing — good, solid, middle class jobs — are disappearing, and what we're seeing is lots of job creation in the low-wage service sector," Ford said. These include fast food, retail, hospitality and so forth. But those jobs are not going to be around forever,"

President elect Donald Trumphas sought to address burgeoning discontent among displaced workers by striking deals to keep more jobs from being outsourced overseas. When asked keeping jobs in the U.S. will cause them to be replaced by robots, Trump said "they will, and we'll make the robots too," according to The New York Times.

Researchers at IDC predict that by 2019, the government will begin implementing robotics-specific regulations to preserve jobs.

"I think what it leads to is more job destruction, and less job creation, especially for average typical people that don't necessarily have PhDs from MIT and all of that," Ford said.

To be sure, self-checkout has been around for years, even as cashiers and retail salespersons have seen high employment rates, Roger McNamee, co-founder of technology investment firm Elevation Partners, pointed out to CNBC on Monday. These workers are often a "positive part" of the retail experience, McNamee added.

But the technology that powers Amazon Go, like the computer vision and artificial intelligence used by self-driving cars, is different that what's come before it, said Ford.

"It's true that technology always creates and destroys jobs, and historically, of course, it's created more jobs," Ford said.

"But I do think we're getting to the point — with the advent of real artificial intelligence, machine learning,and so forth — [where] these technologies are beginning to think. They're taking on cognitive capability. That's different. It's going to have a much more dramatic impact," he added.