Can we blame technology for people’s job loss?

The Amazon Go concept store in Seattle is one of its kind in the world. The store has no cashiers or cash registers. Customers simply walk in, pick their items and walk out.

How exactly does a business operate if customers don’t pay for their goods? Actually, Amazon Go customers do pay for the goods, but not in the traditional way. Amazon Go works like this: to enter the store, you hold up your phone to a scanner, which scans a unique bar code on the Amazon Go app.

Once inside, you can shop around like you would at any normal store. Except that, when you pick up an item, it is “magically” added to your bill. If you return that item to the shelf, it is removed from your bill.

When you are done shopping, you simply walk out of the store. Special sensors pick up that you are leaving, and the total is charged to your credit card. No queues, no fuss, super convenient.

The store is hugely popular, and Amazon is already planning to open more GO stores in other major cities in the US. Other retailers like Walmart are also jumping on the trend.

Why wouldn’t they? When you consider the overall benefits to the business and its customers, there is every reason why the system will soon gain widespread adoption.

Businesses will not only save millions on cashier salaries, but they will also be able to remain open 24 hours a day. Customers will benefit from a streamlined, queue-less shopping experience. Who wouldn’t want that?

There is, however, a downside to all this, which is the looming question of cashier jobs.

When this concept takes off on a large scale, thousands of cashiers will undoubtedly lose their jobs. Invariably, many people are blaming technology for the job losses, using this example as a warning of worse things to come.

But who is really responsible for the job losses? Is it the technology, or is it the customers?

The technology was developed in response to a pressing need in bustling cities, which was for a fast, smooth and efficient shopping experience; and that is what Amazon brought to the table. Technology was simply the enabler. Can we then blame technology?

Let’s consider another example. Online banking has made our lives a whole lot more convenient. The trouble is, because there is seldom any need to go into a branch anymore, many banks downsized and closed dozens of branches, leaving hundreds of tellers jobless.

Who is to blame for this – online banking technology, or us, the bank clients who are “guilty” of using online banking? If we feel bad for the tellers, then are we prepared to give up online banking and bank at a branch?

Similarly, when the Jacquard loom was invented in the early 1800s, clothing was commoditised, and millions of common people could now afford to dress in clothing that was previously only available to the rich. But this came at a price: thousands of weavers lost their jobs almost overnight. But no one really cared about the weavers, because it made economic sense.

Does technology cause job losses?

In a way, it does. But putting the blame squarely on technology is counter-productive because the underlying assertion is that progress and innovation are inherently bad. There are other contributing factors, and we as a human race need to approach the problem holistically.

Otherwise, we will be trying to solve the right problem in the wrong way.

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