Machine Takeover: How jobs and stores are being replaced by technology


By Anya Sczerzenie

Imagine this— you’re thirty years old, walking to your desk job. When you round the corner to go into your office building, you sense that something is not quite right. And then you see it– in your cubicle, sitting at your desk, is a robot. You’ve been replaced.

Robots taking over the world is a nightmare scenario explored in many science-fiction books and movies, but it may be closer to us than we think. In fact, in some ways, the age of the machine has already started.

Consider this– workers in many jobs are already seeing their positions lost to robots. Manufacturing, for example, is becoming a robot-dominated field. These machines can actually be helpful by reducing the number of injuries and deaths caused by manufacturing work– while machines can be replaced, human lives are priceless. Robots can also work without benefits or paychecks, and are more accurate in their work than humans, which helps to reduce the number of mistakes made and saves time and money for the company. However, there is a flipside to this– which is, of course, the many paying jobs lost to machine labor. In a country with a population growth of 3 million people per year, this is bad news. Manufacturing jobs aren’t even where it ends– it’s likely that some administrative and office jobs will be replaced by robots in the future. So even if you think that desk job is “safe”, it may not be. This poses a problem for new job seekers, and human workers will need to gain more computer and technology-based skills in order to survive in the shrinking job market of the future.

Machines aren’t just working their way into the job field; they’re becoming the stores as well. Recently, big-box stores such as Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears have closed some of their locations after being in fierce competition with Amazon, the popular online shopping service. Amazon has been doing well lately, with Amazon Prime membership increasing and new ways of delivery (including drone delivery) being developed every day. After a 2016 holiday season which Amazon described as their “best ever”, ordinary stores just can’t compete. While many busy consumers value the convenience, simplicity, and low hassle of online shopping, it can also cause thousands of workers to be laid off at struggling stores and shutter once-successful shopping centers. Soon, people may not have to leave their couches at all to “make a run” to Target or Wal-Mart– which will be convenient for today’s busy consumers, but possibly devastating for the workers who are fired from the Targets and Walmarts that shut down.

If this trend continues, humans will see more and more aspects of our lives replaced by machines and technology in the years to come. There’s no real way to predict what kind of effect that will have on our society, especially on students who will be going into the job market years from now. If managed right, with people in mind, this technology transition could have positive impacts on people’s lives, but the question is– will they outweigh the negative ones? Above all, we need to be careful to balance people’s convenience with people’s livelihood and risks with benefits. Although some aspects of our technology are changing the world for the better, we need to make sure that in the process we don’t change it for the worse.