How can the retail job market survive the AI revolution?
The White House has released a report detailing the negative economic impact artificial intelligence (AI) could have on millions on jobs.
“At a minimum, some occupations such as drivers and cashiers are likely to face displacement from or restructuring of their current jobs, leading millions of Americans to experience economic hardship in the short-run absent new policies,” the report stated.
It is hard to ignore the speed with which AI — broadly defined — has arrived on the retail scene, both in stores and in industries adjacent to them. Macy’s, for instance, has begun piloting Watson-based AI for answering in-store questions about inventory via a mobile device. Other brands and retailers have piloted enhanced AI-based website searches and voice-controlled searches. Self-driving vehicles have appeared on the roads in tests that could change both local and cross-country shipping and logistics. And, of course, Amazon is testing a convenience store that requires no in-house staff to operate.
Which of the AI experiments will end up as technological footnotes and which will become central to the retailing experience remains to be seen. It is also impossible to fully gauge the timeline along which AI will move from being used occasionally to replacing a significant number of jobs. But whether it takes decades or just a couple of years, the end result could see — in a worst-case scenario — a huge chunk of the population being rendered unemployable. And that could lead to devastating ramifications for consumer spending and the economy as a whole.
The White House report called for aggressive policy responses if the rate of job disruption were to go beyond what has been observed in previous eras of technological disruption. Some of the potential responses mentioned were new job creation strategies, job training to meet the new technological landscape and a stronger social safety net.
- Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy – White House
- White House Warns of AI Making Swathes of Jobs Redundant – Newsweek
- Will AI mobile apps replace associates on Macy’s sales floor? – RetailWire
- Target piloting Amazon Alexa voice search rival – RetailWire
- Driverless truck delivers 50k cans of Bud on supply run – RetailWire
- Will the tech behind Amazon Go redefine convenience at retail? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should retailers prepare for, and respond to, the changes that mass AI adoption may bring to the retail job landscape? How immediate will meaningful changes be to the employment landscape because of AI?