Look Closer is a photo series by OZY that encourages readers to see beyond a seemingly normal photo. Hover over the circles to explore the photo more deeply.
Arigato Mr. Roboto: In 2014, Amazon had 15,000 robotic units. In 2018? A hundred thousand. Now? Around 200,000. Good for anyone ordering from Amazon. For the Amazon workers working with them? The jury’s still out.
The number of packages shipped under the aegis of Amazon Prime’s free one-day and same-day delivery deal has quadrupled in the last 12 months, according to Amazon. While workers might not like having to keep up with the robots, they probably need the robots now to keep up.
And it’s not like the future holds any promise of needing fewer robots. In the United States, this last holiday season saw e-commerce sales leap 18 percent. Which, in concrete terms, also means Amazon saw its brick-and-mortar business sell more than half a billion items, all of which had to be packed by someone, or something.
Chutes, No Ladders: And the dark side? Reports are now showing that robot warehouse technology could cause wages to stagnate and worker satisfaction to plummet since the system now is attached to software that monitors and micromanages worker behavior.
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A modern-day anxiety, considered risible before The Terminator’s Arnold Schwarzenegger put some teeth in it, was the idea that robots didn’t always have our bests interests at heart.
“Robots are and have always been, first and foremost, tools,” says former Army Corps of Engineers’ engineer Duane Harris. So worrying about robots makes about as much sense to those who make robots as worrying about being replaced by a hammer. But John Henry of legend was eventually replaced by the steam engine, and in factories and warehouses all over the world, workers have partially been replaced by robots.
But some jobs were the raison d’être for the idea of robots in the first place. Specifically? Boring, repetitive tasks. Which could have partially been why Amazon invested $775 million in buying a robotic company, rebranding it Amazon Robotics, and for the past eight years has been using them to quickly deliver to you whatever tchotchke or gewgaw tickles your fancy.
Or, in the case of all of the stuff we just bought for the holidays and now have to return and/or replace, Amazon’s facility in Goodyear, Arizona, is using robots (pictured), casually called “drives,” to shuttle stuff from real people (not pictured) who work there to ZIP-code organized chutes. Gifts in, gifts out, across the country, with 200,000 robotic “drives” doing what they’ve been designed to do. All without trying to take over the world.
Photograph by Ross D. Franklin/AP
LOOK CLOSER: WHAT IF THEY HAD A GYM CLASS AND NOBODY CAME?
Look Closer is a new photo series by OZY that encourages readers to see beyond a seemingly normal photo. Hover over the circles to explore the photo more deeply.
The idea for the quilt was hatched by activist Cleve Jones during the candlelight march in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
There were more than 44,000 individual panels in the quilt, weighing more than 10,000 pounds.
The first display of the quilt was in 1987, in Washington, D.C., and it was displayed again in 1996 to be visited by President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was shown again at the time of the XIX International AIDS Conference in 2012.
The quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and honor the lives of their loved ones. Many who died of AIDS-related illnesses didn’t have funerals because of the social stigma early on. In fact, some funeral homes and cemeteries even refused to accept the bodies of the deceased.
This could be Washingtonians standing beside a giant board game on the National Mall. But look beyond a glance and you’ll see that the spectators are gathered around the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt on a crisp October day in 1996. The expansive, colorful AIDS Memorial Quilt — with more than 44,000 panels weighing over 10,000 pounds — was designed to be an eye-catching tool for a national prevention campaign that portrayed the humanity behind the statistics. The idea for the project was hatched in 1985 by activist Cleve Jones and other volunteers during a candlelight march in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
In more ways than one, 1996 was an inflection point. It was the first year since the epidemic started that saw the AIDS incidence rate and deaths decline. In the same year, Time magazine Man of the Year was granted to AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho. The doctor was a pioneer in the use of drug “cocktails,” or combinations, to fight the virus. At the time, 23 million people worldwide were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, and more than 6 million people had already died.
“When the history of this era is written, it is likely that the men and women who turned the tide on AIDS will be seen as true heroes of the age,” Time wrote about Dr. Ho. By 2017, more than two decades later, nearly 37 million people had HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to UNAIDS.
Today, remembrance and commitment to LGBTQ rights are no less pressing. Pride Month, which commemorates the Stonewall riots of 1969 in Manhattan, is simultaneously a time for resistance and celebration. Among those both within and outside the LGBTQ community, this month evokes an intentional remembrance of decades of hard-fought progress that LGBTQ activists have made in demanding equal rights in American society. At the same time, it’s a reminder that democracy requires the active participation of all — and that the battle for equality is neither over nor won.
Photograph by Shayna Brennan/AP
Look Closer: Rugs, Giant Board Game, or Something Far More Poignant?
By Eugene Robinson