A couple of months ago, we reported that Walmart was beginning to use robots to carry out mundane tasks like mopping its floors and tracking inventory.
Last year, the company raised wages and is using the robots in more than 1,500 of its stores in an effort to cut down on labor costs. Robots “stealing” jobs should not surprise anyone – as more people demand a higher minimum wage, more jobs will be eliminated or replaced by machines…but I digress.
Back in April, Zero Hedge reported:
Walmart, which is the largest employer in the US, said at least 300 stores will introduce machines that scan shelves for out-of-stock products. Meanwhile, so-called “autonomous floor scrubbers” will be deployed in 1,500 stores, and conveyor belts that automatically scan and sort products as they are loaded off of trucks will more than double to 1,200. Another 900 stores will install 16-foot-high towers that will allow customers to pick up their online grocery orders without interacting with humans. (source)
Walmart’s claim that employees like their new robot colleagues isn’t entirely true.
Also back in April, we reported that the higher-ups at the company claimed employees are happy about their AI coworkers:
Naturally, the mega-retailer wants us to believe that robots taking over certain tasks in their stores is a good thing – a change that will allegedly benefit their human employees. “With automation, we are able to take away some of the tasks that associates don’t enjoy doing,” Mark Propes, senior director of central operations for Walmart US, told The Wall Street Journal. “At the same time, we continue to open up new jobs in other things in the store.”
In a press release titled #SquadGoals: How Automated Assistants are Helping Us Work Smarter, Walmart refers to the robots as “smart assistants” and claims that the response from associates has been “overwhelmingly positive” so far:
“Our associates immediately understood the opportunity for the new technology to free them up from focusing on tasks that are repeatable, predictable and manual,“ said John Crecelius, senior vice president of Central Operations for Walmart U.S. “It allows them time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers, which they tell us have always been the most exciting parts of working in retail.”
Yeah, about that “overwhelmingly positive” response from human Walmart employees…it looks like they aren’t so fond of their AI associates after all.
According to a new report from The Washington Post, many Walmart employees are finding the robots difficult to deal with:
To Walmart executives, the Auto-C self-driving floor scrubber is the future of retail automation — a multimillion-dollar bet that advanced robots will optimize operations, cut costs and revolutionize the American superstore.
But to the workers of Walmart Supercenter No. 937 in Marietta, Ga., the machine has a different label: “Freddy,” named for a janitor the store let go shortly before the Auto-C rolled to life.
Freddy’s career at the store has gotten off to a rocky start. Workers there said it has suffered nervous breakdowns, needed regular retraining sessions and taken weird detours from its programmed rounds.
Shoppers are not quite sure how to interact with Freddy, either. Evan Tanner, who works there, recalled the night he says a man fell asleep on top of the machine as it whirred obediently down a toy aisle.
Walmart executives said they are skeptical that happened, because the Auto-C is designed to stop if someone interferes with its work. But Tanner insists Freddy dutifully stuck to the job at hand. “Someone had to pull [the sleeping man] off,” he said. Freddy “was going to swing toward groceries, just cleaning away.” (source)
Some employees feel they are training their replacements.
“Their jobs, some workers said, have never felt more robotic. By incentivizing hyper-efficiency, the machines have deprived the employees of tasks they used to find enjoyable. Some also feel like their most important assignment now is to train and babysit their often inscrutable robot colleagues,” the report says.
Sometimes the robots are charming and helpful, the employees said. But others said the machines had “accelerated” the pace of work and spoke of having to respond to the robots’ nagging alerts. When the AI senses a problem, it sends an alert to the handheld devices most Walmart workers are expected to carry to let them know it is time to gather the carts or replenish the shelves. Human employees are the ones who do the physical work, and some say that feels demeaning. Others say they feel as if they are training their replacements, but also tending to them when things go wrong:
The self-driving floor scrubbers, for instance, must be manually driven until they learn the store’s layout — and when the aisles are shifted around, as is common during seasonal displays and remodels, the machines must be retrained.
Technical glitches, surprise breakdowns and human resentment are commonplace. Some workers said they have cursed the robots out using their employee-given nicknames, such as “Emma,” “Bender” and “Fran.” (source)
Some said they feel the company doesn’t value their own work:
Many Walmart workers said they had long feared robots would one day take their jobs. But they had not expected this strange transition era in which they are working alongside machines that can be as brittle, clumsy and easily baffled by the messy realities of big-box retail as a human worker can be.
The robots also don’t complain, ask for raises, or require vacations and bathroom breaks. (source)
Many Walmart customers aren’t big fans of the robot employees either.
Employees have reported that some customers don’t really know how to act around the robot employees, and some have acted aggressively against the machines:
Customers, too, have found coexisting with machines to be confusing, if not alarming. Some shoppers have been spooked, for example, by the Auto-S scanner, which stands six feet tall and quietly creeps down the aisles, searching for out-of-place items by sweeping shelves with a beam of light. Other shoppers, store workers said, have made a game of kicking the things.
Walmart workers said they have seen people following the robots around, recording them, talking to them, slapping their emergency-stop buttons, jumping in their way suddenly — and, yes, assaulting them with kicks and shoves.
Other customers find their time with the robots to be unsatisfying, including older shoppers for whom a trip to the store is as much about human interaction as anything else. “A lot of them will say, ‘I didn’t come here to talk to a machine,’ ” said a worker at a Walmart in Dunedin, Fla., who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want it to affect his job. “ ‘I came here to shop and have someone help me with my groceries.’ ” (source)
While Walmart and other retailers may like to spin the impending robot workforce takeover as a positive thing for humanity, in reality, it “is an issue of growing concern for many employees across a range of industries,” reports Digital Trends:
The matter was brought into sharp focus by the World Economic Forum last year when it forecast that machines may be capable of performing half of all “work tasks” globally by 2025 — that’s equal to around 75 million jobs — though we should point out it also estimated that more than 130 million human jobs could be created during the same time-frame. (source)
Retail jobs were already disappearing at an alarming rate. Now it appears that remaining retail positions are increasingly at risk of being lost to artificial intelligence. How long until humans are rendered entirely obsolete?
What do you think about this?
Do you think robots will eventually replace human workers entirely? If so, how soon do you think it will happen? Have you seen a robot “employee” in a Walmart store yet? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About the Author
Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.
My Walmart took out more than half the employee operated registers and replaced them with self checks. There are only 6 registers now with cashiers. It’s awful! My Walmart is one of the busiest in my state. They also brout in the tower for .com orders. It does not run well. The brand new self check stands have technical issues too with almost half down most of the time. The first week they were installed, many employees left, knowing they would be losing their jobs. They also installed cattle gates at the entrances to the shopping areas that have alarms that are loud if you dont leave thru the check stands. And last but not least, they installed big tvs that monitor your every move at the registers, up high so everyone can watch you. The lack of service is only outdone by being viewed as a thief. I believe it will only get worse. A checker told me that there is a store in NY with no checkers at all.
What a surprise! (That workers do not like the robots.) The only thing consumers can do is shop elsewhere, then write WalMart and tell them why you shop elsewhere. We won’t even use the self-checkout line in the local supermarket: When told we can use self-checkout my husband (who can have a booming voice when we wants to) says “No, thank you. We want to help keep local people employed.”
I think customers need to choose if they wish to freque my thesis stores anymore. Self check outs are anoying and often take twice as long to get through with frequent issues. My kids like to touch. Basically I would rather wait in line for a human cashier.
I hate talking (read cursing) at the self-checkout at Kroger. The infernal machine has something to say after every single item scanned. Heaven forbid if you make a mistake as it will announce loudly that you need an assistant. No thanks machines. I love the human employees.
It is all about Money! You do not have to pay robots benefits. No sick time, no vacations, no retirement. Hello?
yeah we know. no “hello” needed.
About Walmart’s “integrity”:
Back in the mid-’80s I had a temporary sales job to round up new small business customers for a new Sam’s Club opening. When that job was completed, Sam Walton flew in to greet the sales crew and promised them as part of their compensation free lifetime memberships in Sam’s Clubs anywhere in the country. At that time, such a membership was about $30/year.
It wasn’t long after Mr. Sam died that the Walmart management flushed Mr. Sam’s integrity down the toilet by announcing that “we’ve canceled that ‘class” of membership.” I haven’t set foot in a Sam’s Club since after realizing their management would throw away their reputation so cheaply.
Instead of alienating and clearing Walmart’s aisles of customers, I can think of more appropriate uses for robots. Use them to clear war zone minefields of IED explosives instead.
Well, there is one possible in-store use of the robots that could be an improvement. Last year I spotted an ongoing problem with shelf edge price tags in Walmart’s kitchen gadgets section. Very frequently the checkout process at the clerk’s counter would electronically scan the bar codes and ring up a higher price than those shelf tags. (There was never a case where the checkout scan rang up a lower price than the shelf tags were showing.) My repeated reports of this to Walmart’s management seemed to be ignored, judging by the lack of results.
So which do you think would be more appropriate? Robots correcting those under-priced shelf tags, or replacing some of those store managers who wouldn’t solve the problem?
I rarely go to Walmart. I never do self check outs. I will walk out without my items rather use a self check out. Remember the old days with small stores? A bakery, a meat market, etc. People might start ignoring the big, uncaring corporation stores and start going to more Mom & Pop stores. I would like to see more started.
There is a meat market I go to for bacon, pork chops and dog bones. The place also butchers my beef, lamb and goats. The owner knows who I am and what I need. His prices are also reasonable. There are no farmers markets out by me, however when I am visiting my parents I do try and go to one. I rather support local or small businesses than large corporations.
You don’t shop at Wal-Mart for the employees, you shop there for low prices, and don’t try to deny it. The only reason to shop at Wal-Mart is the low prices. Accept the fact that employees with no or low education and NO SKILLS are going to be replaced. If you want a job which pays better, get an education. Otherwise, you WILL BE REPLACED by a MACHINE!! Machines do not take breaks, need time off or stand around visiting with their friends. And they do a better job. They have NO ATTITUDES to annoy customers or employers with, and will end up being better and cheaper employees once the kinks are worked out. So quit your belly-aching and get an education! I look forward to the day when I don’t have to deal with rude employees.
I also find the self checkout aisles much quicker and use them frequently. And what a surprise the employees don’t like the robots. Making them work quicker? Making them refill the shelves? Oh, poor babies, having to actually do some work!
Not to be argumentative here – but not everyone is able to get an education for a huge variety of reasons. Intelligence, life circumstances, lack of money, the list could go on and on. But the thing we should salute is that even though they might have these reasons they cannot further their education, they still want to work. I imagine you probably also dislike welfare. You can’t have it both ways. Not everyone can be a professional.
No some peoplecan n ot ever be a professional, but far too many depend on welfare as a way of life. I have a daughter-in-law that thinks nothing of collecting her welfare check every month. after all, “it’s her money”. She just doesn’t get it. And all I was really trying to point out is that Wal-Mart and places like McDonald’s are not the enemy here. Personally, I do not frequent Wal-Mart NOR McDonald’s, but I do occassionally go to Wal-Mart out of neccesity, and I’d rather deal with a machine than some of the rude and surly employees I have seen there.
Off Topic though I would suggest that parts of the US Southern Border being literally overrun should be getting a lot more attention. Steve Quayle’s latest Alert should be awakening every American who has an interest in protecting their family from what is planned.
I don’t use self checkouts. They cannot handle clearance pricing, the yellow tags at HOME DEPOT.
Yesterday I bought several clearance items at NO FRILLS & the human cashier caught every reduced item.
I wud always prefer human interaction over scanning my own purchases.
At LOWES you don’t have to pay for any light weight items, just put them in your bag same time as something much heavier and the scale weight checker is fooled.
No wonder LOWES is closing so many locations over poor sales performance. Employees get a to-do list at start of shift, and helping customers is not a thing on their list.
Also you can cut a UPC code off a less expensive item & then clear tape it over something more expensive, saving yourself $$$
You just successfully spotted the Achilles Heel to the Beast system and their AI implementation. Congratulations and welcome to their ‘slippery slope of compromise’.
By that, I mean, where does the beast mindset of $ECONOMY begin and where does that end of MAN AS A FREE MORAL AGENT end?
I was debating , within myself , over going for the half billion$or jump straight to the $billion per year economy ( once I’d achieved a $million per year threshold). And in my musings, the voice of God spoke up with: ‘What if you gain the whole world? Yet lose your soul… What have you got?’
Something to think about anyway. I know it got My Attention!!!
Could someone post a link to the steve Quayle alert he is referring to. I want to read it.
Or Stephen if you have link could you post it pls!!
Well of course the robots are coming!
When you have a group clamoring for a living wage for everyone, but then ask the consumer to pay for those wares, food, etc. to compensate for those wages, and the consumer balks.
What is that? Pay $18.50 for a value meal at a fast food joint so that worker makes a living wage?
What about the check out person at the local grocery store? If all the food prices in the store went up 20-30% to pay them a living wage? The bag person?
I for one, welcome our robot overlords! 🙂
retail is dying. I say “good riddance”. Retail is quite dehumanizing for the retail clerk and for the customer. I am a business major, BSBA and earned my money in Industrial Sales for 15 years. However, when good jobs were all sent overseas…i lost mine. I had to work retail to try and keep my house ( I lost it…retail workers can’t afford houses). I worked in many retail companies as “junk jobs” until I found something better to do . However whenever I lost a good office job there was always a retail “junk job” available due to the high turnover. I worked in Sears for two years and saw the compensation and benefits lowered. Customer Service is horrible there and I finally had to quit when i discovered Sears was hiring ex convicts to deliver merchandise becasue the state paid half their minimum wages. I had some of my customers call to say the delivery men were “scary”…..I worked at Radio Shack where defective merchandise that was returned in the original boxes was put back on the shelve. The manager said ” who is going to return a $19.95 item?” He was right few do……I see automation at Shop Right Supermarket and Home Depot. Both have installed more “chek it your self” aisles and are doing away with cashiers. At Home Depot they have NO LIVE cashiers at certain times…you must go thru the automated line…..Yes, retail is dying due to the greed of the corporations. Just like Henry Ford took advantage of his factory workers, retail companies are taking advantage of their workers. There was an ad on TV for a while showing how “happy” Walmart employees were. I think so many people fell off their chairs laughing at this that the ad was pulled from TV. Do you see many happy workers at Walmart? I don’t. You won’t see them much longer….retail is dying will be a thing of the past………………….
This defeatist attitude is exactly why companies can get away with their shenanigans. Letting them walk all over us is why they can make our jobs miserable and reduce us to mere tools in their money-making arsenal. I too worked in retail and honestly I fantasized about killing myself on my way to work just because I was so miserable there. I was even jealous of the people who died in an at that time recent bus shoot up wishing that had been the bus I rode to work. But this misery isn’t because of the job itself but because of the managers who run the show. Back in the 60s and 70s my grandmother worked in retail and absolutely loved her job. Even in the 90s, retail wasn’t as terrible as it is now. If management and upper management actually invested in their employees today like they did in the past instead of making them sit through anit-union videos (they made me do this when I got hired) and replacing them willy-nilly, retail would be a lot more pleasant for both consumers and employees. But they only care about the bottom line, and now they’ve gotten customers to only focus on price while being content with barely trained employees giving them mediocre to crappy service. And people wonder why retail employees seem rude/miserable?
I don’t really understand why people are so comfortable with robots entering our lives. So what if they’re more “efficient”? Will we see any of those gains? No. All we’ll see are the already insanely low prices dropping by a few more dollars while all the excessively wealthy get to hold onto even more money. And the lowered prices we do see will be offset by the inferior service we’ll be getting. Sure, robots can mimic human intelligence and learn to do tasks better than a human, but they can never have common sense or understand nuance. So in all they grey area edge cases, which are more common than you could imagine, the robots will perform poorly where a human employee would breeze through with ease. I’m a professional software engineer and I see algorithms unexpectedly fail because they can only perform with exactly what info they’ve been given and only improve with rewriting. Machines have a hyperfocused intelligence that is only good at achieving their ultimate goal. They can be derailed quite easily when faced with complex tasks outside of what they were built for. The only reason vehicles and factory machines work so well is because they only ever need to perform the one task they were built for. Autonomous machines will need to adapt to new tasks which machines are actually very bad at. Sure, eventually machines will be semi-competent at most tasks, but is the job displacment, economic disruption, and loss of human interaction really worth saving a few bucks? Especially when you might jeopardize your own income and future? Even white collar jobs can be automized. This problem is so real that experts are toying with a government basic level wage everyone will get which will be peanuts compared to what we get now, but just enough to survive and consume in the new robot economy. And the lower robots drive down prices, the lower this new global wage can be set. All you naysayer robot supporters will be out of a job earning garbage welfare before you know it. College will not save you. Even engineers and doctors can be automized!
Not only that, we’ll destroy our environment even faster. Since robots can move product even faster, bloated overconsumption can skyrocket and demand for resources will shoot through the roof. We’ll throw away even more stuff so we can buy more crap and keep the wasteful economy alive. And that’s not even counting all the imperfect products that will be thrown away before reaching store shelves. Resource strain will push the wealth gap further as resource rich areas will be sucked dry faster. I see no good coming from robots except for letting myopic geeks have a little fun and letting the ridiculous elite get way richer.