While Amazon has made its desire to replace human warehouse workers with robot ones clear, the technology isn’t quite there yet, and so the company has had to compromise. Rather than having robots replace humans, Amazon has created a cozy middle ground where robots assist humans by doing most of the tedious and tiring jobs while humans do the more complex work.
Trenton, New Jersey, isn’t the industrial powerhouse it once was, even if the slogan “Trenton Makes, the World Takes,” first installed in 1935, still stands in 10-foot-tall letters across a bridge that spans the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. But a few minutes east of town, inside a warehouse belonging to Amazon, there are signs of another industrial transformation. Amazon’s fulfillment center, located in the township of Robbinsville, is a dizzying hive of activity, with humans and machines working in carefully coördinated harmony. Besides showing the incredible efficiencies of Amazon’s operations, the factory hints at how, over the coming decades, technology may start to assist human workers with many simple manual tasks. How far this change goes, and how quickly it comes about, could make a significant difference to the labor market (see “Who Will Own the Robots?”).