Big Tech giants form monopolies because they can. They can because their technologies really do work. So now what?
With its digital tentacles embracing the planet, Amazon hoovers up big data and spits out packages marked with a phallic smile logo. Not satisfied to kill off indie bookstores, the mega-corporation has also destroyed small retail businesses, pushed out local grocers, obliterated unions, implemented mass mechanization in the workplace, slipped Alexa eavesdropping technologies into a hundred million homes, and installed Ring cameras on a growing number of front doors.
When you can’t be bothered to go out into the world, Amazon will come to you. Even better, after watching your every move, chances are its AI systems know what products you want before you do. Convenience über alles!
Due to this dynamic, the COVID-19 lockdowns saw founder Jeff Bezos emerge as history’s richest man. His fortune is presently estimated at $208 billion. A cynical observer might suspect this “customer-obsessed” technocrat cares more about his sprawling bio-mechanical Behemoth than the human beings it was created to serve.
On July 20, as the world rolled its eyes, Jeff Bezos blasted off into space. Three weeks before, Bloomberg posted a scathing story about Amazon Flex drivers being abruptly fired by robots. A few days before that, The New York Times published a gloomy exposé on Amazon’s Fulfillment Center sweatshops. I suppose if things go south on Earth and the humans revolt, the tycoon will have an escape plan.
The Bloomberg headline says it all: “Fired by Bot at Amazon: ‘It’s You Against the Machine.’” According to multiple Flex drivers who were automatically and unfairly “deactivated,” the tracking algorithms are masters of scheduling and speed, but can’t understand snow conditions or traffic jams. “People familiar with the strategy,” the article states, “say Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos believes machines make decisions more quickly and accurately than people, reducing costs and giving Amazon a competitive edge.” In other words, big data doesn’t care about your feelings.
Judging from drivers’ descriptions—which echo constant complaints from workers at Amazon Fulfillment Centers and sorting hubs—it’s like slaving under an idiot savant who can do high-level calculus, but stares dumbly when he hears “It wasn’t my fault” or “I need help.” To paraphrase the clichéd (and completely true) technophobic critiques, as algorithms take over decision-making processes, human workers are forced to grind like robots.
In a departure from their usual subservience to our robot overlords, The New York Times quoted an Amazon developer who says Bezos believes people are incurably lazy. “What he would say is that our nature as humans is to expend as little energy as possible to get what we want or need.” Having created a billion Amazon-addicted shut-ins hitting 1-Click Orders all day while watching the sky for delivery drones, Bezos should know.
This is a huge problem, but it’s not everybody’s problem. Amazon’s opponents run up against serious quandary: automation actually works. If implemented correctly, algorithms and robots are more precise, more efficient, and more easily controlled than human beings. Really, what’s not to love? As a ruler, I mean—not a subject.
My revulsion for Amazon’s destructive footprint is complicated by grudging admiration for The Machine. The entire system is a human-robot hybrid that interweaves AI-powered surveillance, lightning-fast automated sorting, robotic stock-haulers, miles of conveyor belts and package chutes, and an army of sweaty, hi-viz clad humanoids who occasionally pee in bottles to “make rate” under The Machine’s relentless Eye.
The entire operation is streamlined by advanced machine learning. Through ubiquitous sensors and ID tracking, artificial intelligence monitors the movement of every hand in 185 warehouses worldwide and every package that arrives on your front step. The AI is motivated to seek the fastest path between two points, however twisted the process may be. This soulless system determines the behaviors and daily schedules of 1.3 million Amazon employees worldwide.
Paradoxically, even as Amazon scoops up workers, it ultimately destroys more jobs than it creates as it squashes competitors. The openly avaricious and aptly named Tim Worstall at Forbes not only admits this, he celebrates it.
As of June, Amazon had also grown its automation fleet to 350,000 robots. This is a 75% increase in only two years. Among the newcomers are the newly minted Pegasus and Xanthus models, which are basically a cross between a Roomba and a mule. One consistent fear expressed by workers is that the company is working toward 100% robotic Fulfillment Centers with plans to kick every blue collar complainer to the curb. In response, Amazon representatives have assured everyone that fully robotic warehouses are still a few years away. So just relax.
Until then, Amazon relies on segregation to keep the peace. Each Fulfillment Center is divided by a chainlink fence—not to separate by race or sex, but along the human/robot faultline. On one side, there are swarms of droids shuffling products from one place to another. The packages are sorted by barcodes and QR-codes, not unlike humanoids at an airport. On the other side of the fence, safe from sociopathic robots, are the human workers who do what no machine can do—at least not yet—which is to use dexterous fingers to properly package products and hand them back to robots.
There are plenty of other jobs for non-silicon primates, too. Guided by robots, they pull stock off of automated mobile shelves. They unload trucks that were guided and tracked by GPS. They move bins around and push buttons. They scratch themselves and grumble.
If any worker feels a serious existential crisis coming on, they can pop into one of the AmaZen confessional booths on the warehouse floor. Inside, employees can access spiritual insights, health tips, and exercise techniques via touchscreen. They even have artificial skies and plastic plants to provide a more natural feel.
“Jeff Bezos loves you, associate THX-1138. You must transcend your fear and laziness if you want to find fulfillment.”
Amazon’s entire operation is dependent on machines. Its executives are dependent on machines. Its workers are dependent on machines. Its customers are dependent on machines. The big picture is an unsettling glimpse of technocracy’s future.
Who benefits from this dependency, anyway? Someone should ask history’s richest man. Or at least one of his chatbot representatives. Chances are he knows something we don’t.Joe Allen
writes about ethnic identity, transhuman hubris, and the eternal spiritual quest. His work has appeared in The Federalist, ColdType, The American Thinker, The National Pulse, This View of Life, The American Spectator, IBCSR: Science on Religion, Disinformation, and elsewhere. Follow him @JOEBOTxyz and www.joebot.xyz.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2022 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/amazon-the-worlds-most-efficient-misery-pit