The trope of robots taking over the world might soon be moving from science fiction into reality, as more and more companies use machine workers to do everything from make pizzas to patrol city streets. Robots have a dual appeal to many companies: they are often more efficient and cheaper than human workers.
Amazon, the one-stop shop for buyers looking for virtually any product under the sun, already uses robots to handle packaging in some of its facilities. But ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood says she thinks that within the next few years, Amazon’s use of robotic workers is about to explode.
“Amazon is adding about a thousand robots a day,” Wood said Wednesday on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
“If you compare the number of robots Amazon has to the number of employees, it’s about a third. And we believe that by the year 2030, Amazon can have more robots than employees.”
Amazon has already deployed more than 500,000 robots in its operations. Last November, the company launched a robotic system called Sparrow, which uses computer vision technology and artificial intelligence to distinguish one product from another and manage millions of packages in its warehouses. The launch of Sparrow was a key moment for the Seattle-based company, which has been adopting more automation technologies in its warehouse operations.
“Working with our employees, Sparrow will take on repetitive tasks, enabling our employees to focus their time and energy on other things, while also advancing safety,” the company said in a Nov. 22, 2022, blog post.
The rise of the robots at Amazon would of course mean fewer human workers. Amazon has famously undergone a major union drive from its workers over the past few years. And the e-commerce giant has tried to steer clear from being pegged as a company that axes jobs because of automation.
Wood believes that robots could save the company big money in the long term.
“If you look at the cost declines, which drive all of our models…for every cumulative doubling in the number of robots produced, the cost declines are in the 50–60% range,” she said.
Wood has been optimistic about several examples of robot technology, including grocery-delivery drones, and sees potential for “super-exponential growth” for companies deploying disruptive technologies.
“We are just at the dawn of the robotics age. And I would say artificial intelligence and battery technology are all a part of that movement as well,” Wood said.
Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the U.S. with more than 1 million employees. Amazon estimated that its employees around the world packed an average of 13 million boxes a day in 2021, and that robots could work “smarter, not harder” to carry out the same operations efficiently.
“Ever since we introduced robotics to our facilities ten years ago, we have added hundreds of thousands of people to Amazon’s workforce and created over 700 new types of jobs,” said Amazon spokesperson Maya Vautier.
Update, Feb. 1, 2023: This article was updated with a comment from Amazon
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