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UPS Says Jobs Will Survive A.I.—But With One Condition

November 18, 2019, 3:28 PM UTC

The logistics industry is on the cusp of dramatic transformation at the hands of artificial intelligence and drone technology. But what does that mean today for all the employees involved in the industry?

According to UPS CEO David Abney, who was himself a package handler and a driver once upon a time, they’ll be fine—as long as their companies keep growing.

“We have 480,000 employees around the world. They’re very important to us,” Abney said at the Fortune Global Forum in Paris. “We don’t see A.I. replacing all these jobs.”

Abney warned that a company that just concentrates on using new automation technologies will “obviously” find that it can do more with fewer jobs. “The key to making sure that doesn’t happen is to grow the business at the same time,” he said.

UPS has been the first beneficiary of a Federal Aviation Administration license to operate commercial drones, and is already testing the technology in controlled settings—such as for moving samples and blood tests around large health care complexes.

At the conference, Abney described a future where a package delivery car will carry multiple drones on its roof that will regularly fly off to deliver packages along the vehicle’s route; rural areas provide a good use case for this. Meanwhile, UPS is also using artificial intelligence to optimize its routes, shaving off miles that experienced drivers did not think possible to shed.

“Data allows us to be so much more effective in our planning and our routing,” Abney said.

The issue of automation has caused friction between UPS management and unions representing its employees. Last year, the company found itself in a standoff with the Teamsters, which reportedly tried to get it to hold back from using drones and driverless vehicles, a transition that could ultimately cost its members jobs.

Negotiations ended with a five-year agreement that included the creation of 5,000 new full-time jobs. But the union failed to reach the guarantee that it was initially seeking—putting the brakes on automation.

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