As technology advances at warp speed, many economists and other observers have worried about the impacts it will have on job displacement and income inequality. We will soon know if their dire predictions are correct as one of America's leading retailers and world's most powerful corporations, Wal-Mart is now integrating robots into their stores.
According to a CBS San Francisco report, Wal-Mart has prepared a "small army" of sophisticated robots that will help with scanning items and stocking them at their stores. Right now, these robots are being tested at 50 different locations throughout America, but it is widely believed that they will become commonplace before long.
"We boxed [the robot] in with four TV cameras earlier, and it made a decision on the fly as to how to figure out a way around so that it could carry on with its job," said Martin Hitch, the chief business officer at the firm that designed the robot. "That's the most rewarding thing. When it successfully navigates a really complex and dynamic space and just gets on with the job. It's unobtrusive, it just carries on."
After a customer observed the robots in action, their first thoughts were about the impact it might have on jobs.
"Wow, so it's like taking somebody's job?" Shopper Deborah Espinoza asked an employee while having a discussion about the robots. The Wal-Mart employee responded with the company line.
The Wal-Mart employee said, "It's not taking someone's job. It's designed to improve the job."
Espinoza did not buy that these robots would be used to make employees' lives easier. She works at San Jose International Airport and saw directly how automated kiosks led to layoffs and fewer people having jobs. Wal-Mart denies that the robots will be used to squeeze humans out of low-income jobs.