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This article was published on September 1, 2017


AI is going to replace retail workers sooner than you think

AI is going to replace retail workers sooner than you think
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan covers human-centric artificial intelligence advances, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming. Pronouns: He/him Tristan covers human-centric artificial intelligence advances, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming. Pronouns: He/him

Citibank recently disseminated a predictive research paper in its “Technology at Work” series, wherein a number of experts lay out the future of human employment. The co-director for the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, Carl Benedikt Frey, writes “Retail is one industry in which employment is likely to vanish.”

That day can’t come soon enough.

Before the people who depend on retail for employment release all their pent-up rage at this humble reporter, please allow me to provide a brief background statement.

I’ve worked many a retail job. Most recently I was a customer service representative for a satellite television provider. That was the most emotionally stressful job I’ve ever done — and I’m a veteran.

With unequivocal confidence I say: no amount of compensation is enough for the people who are forced to take that kind of abuse from the general public everyday.

Customer service is shitty because people are assholes to retail workers. It’s an ouroboros of unrealistic expectations swallowing up a near-constant stream of abuse. Honestly, letting the robots take-over might be a humanitarian effort at this point.

Have you ever witnessed one of those crazy customer explosions where someone is screaming at a minimum-wage worker because of an expired coupon or something?

Let those assholes yell at robots.

And if you are scared of the robot takeover, whether you’re terrified of the future because it’s your job that’s next, or you’re Elon Musk and you think AI is going to murder us all, it’s going to happen anyway.

Amazon already has physical retail spaces dedicated to an entirely people-free shopping experience, you can visit them now. And if you’re placing bets on what the future of retail looks like you should consult the company that went from online bookseller to the largest storefront on Earth.

Besides, I’m sure most of us will agree: there’s always going to be a need for humans to provide a face-to-face experience that robots can’t. The people who are good at that — really good — have nothing to fear. They’ll be so in-demand they may even stand a chance of being paid what they’re actually worth one day.