SCIENCE -THE FUTURE -TECH - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

By YEET MAGAZINE | Published 0456 GMT (1256 HKT) July 3, 2021

A striking survey by the Bloomberg agency on the automation of human resources within Amazon's Flex delivery program highlights certain drifts of management by artificial intelligence.

A few months ago, we reported installing cameras inside Amazon delivery vans . In recent days, a Bloomberg survey evokes the dismissals by robot drivers of the Amazon Flex program, inaugurated in 2015 to ensure deliveries within a few hours of its Prime Now service. The two things are not directly linked, but the first suggests ever more intrusive surveillance of workers, while the second confirms that “augmented management” (employee management aided, or even dictated, by artificial intelligence) is making its mark. funeral hole at the Gafam.

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If we are to believe Bloomberg's findings, hiring, performance reports and layoffs are all human resources issues dealt with almost completely automatically by software developed for this purpose, based on learned algorithms. The drivers use an application provided by Amazon on their smartphone on a daily basis to indicate the time at which they start their tour, sign the documents presented to them by their employer, organize and optimize their deliveries and report any problems encountered. But that's not all, the system also aggregates in the profile of the drivers countless notations concerning their punctuality, the average time between two deliveries, the satisfaction expressed by the customers and until the state in which the boxes arrive.

So much data that is passed through the mill of these human resources software and can trigger the sending of warnings, blames and even notices of layoffs by email. Should the extreme automation of the employee-employer relationship be seen as a form of mistreatment at work? Not for Amazon. “We have invested heavily in technology and resources in order to provide drivers with visibility into their status and ability to continue delivering on Amazon's behalf, knowing that drivers can perfectly appeal during these procedures,” explains a spokesperson for the company at Bloomberg.

Many dysfunctions

Problem, this transparency touted by Amazon does not always exist from the point of view of the drivers. On Internet forums or in interviews given by some of them to Bloomberg, we see that the system is in fact rather opaque and that it is not uncommon for drivers not to understand the reason why their rating is falling. suddenly starts to drop. In some cases, dismissal notices are sent without further explanation, and the accounts of targeted drivers are automatically closed.

Neddra Lira's bad experience serves as an example.

This trouble-free delivery woman saw her rating severely impacted after having to turn back to the warehouse one day with a puncture. In the weeks that followed, she did everything she could to regain a correct rating and managed to return to “super” status in the app, just below the top grade (“fantastic”). Alas, that did not prevent the system from firing her soon after for “violation of the conditions of service” . She obviously appealed against this decision, but Amazon did not rehabilitate her.

Amazon Locker down, recipients unreachable, closed doors, etc.

There are many reasons why a delivery can fail and, often, the driver has nothing to do with it. However, if these events occur too often, the algorithms inexorably end up penalizing the latter. This is what says Stephen Normandin, another driver dismissed because his rating “fell below an acceptable level” .

The galley of selfies

Another problem often mentioned: malfunctions of protocols based on facial recognition. Since 2019, the multinational has asked its drivers to take a selfie every time they board a delivery van to start their tour.

Photo that is analyzed and compared to the one provided by the drivers when they register on the platform. A security taken by Amazon to prevent several people from being able to deliver to the same employee account, as is the case with Uber to verify the identity of drivers.

This is understandable insofar as the company wishes to protect itself in the event that its deliveries are made by people it does not know and if incidents occur (theft, road accidents, etc.).

But it turns out that the testimonies of ex-deliverers whose accounts were closed because the selfies provided “did not meet the prerequisites of the Amazon Flex program” , are legion. Weight loss, a bushy beard, a shaved mustache, tied hair, a change of glasses are all changes that image verification algorithms seem to have trouble appreciating. Photos taken in low light conditions, during morning or night tours, are also often a problem and can be a reason for suspension.

Pecuniary penalizing appeal procedures

As Bloomberg reports, drivers who believe they have been improperly dismissed by the system have 10 days to appeal and request to be reinstated. Until this procedure is initiated and the file examined, they cannot work. As a result, some unjustly dismissed drivers lose precious days of salary before resuming their tours for Amazon.

Last but not least , if the decision taken on appeal is unfavorable to them, they can request arbitration, which requires committing the sum of $ 200 and proves to be a deterrent for many.

Paid between $ 18 and $ 30 an hour, licensed Amazon Flex drivers are quickly replaced. There is no shortage of applicants, and the Amazon Flex app is downloaded several hundred thousand times each month in the United States, demonstrating a huge turnover in the teams. This is undoubtedly why Amazon is hardly moved by the bad publicity that the Bloomberg investigation may have given it.

“The leaders knew this was going to wreak havoc. These are things that they talked about in the meetings. The only question was to know how harmful the use of such automated systems could be ” , confesses a former software engineer who contributed to the development of these management tools assisted by artificial intelligence (humanity?).

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