City Council candidate aims to reduce negative impacts of automation and artificial intelligence on Durham workers

By Caroline Daly, October 12th

Shelia Huggins is running for election to Durham City Council in North Carolina. The focus of her campaign is increasing the number of better paying jobs and opportunities for Durham residents, despite the rising presence of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

One of her main concerns relates to the impact of automation and AI on the local job market. Huggins expressed concerns about Kroger, Walmart and Dollar General all piloting self-service checkout only stores in other states.

She is concerned that this is taking away valuable jobs from people.

Huggins is also worried that customer service for some companies is now being handled by chatbots and artificial intelligence virtual agents.  

Artificial intelligence and other new technologies seem to be taking over the job market and eliminating jobs, specifically in the Raleigh-Durham area, which is continuing to grow. Huggins believes this increase should create better paying jobs, not take them away.  

According to a recent News and Observer article, the self-driving taxi company Cruise “is considering expanding to Raleigh and possibly Durham as well.” This could directly impact rideshare drivers in the Triangle who would see increased competition in the rideshare market. The Raleigh-Durham, NC Uber Lyft Drivers Facebook Group has over 1,000 members who might be affected.

In Durham, automation now handles most of the city’s parking transactions, replacing workers in garages’ booths.

Many sanitation trucks now have automation features that didn’t exist before the 1960’s, the use of AI in this field has taken away more jobs. Huggins said Durham even has the use of robotic lawnmowers that cut the grass on city property.

“When I run downtown, the Department of Parks and Recreation has one of those robotic lawnmowers,” Huggins said. “That used to be somebody’s job, but now they have that. And I’m not saying that it completely took away somebody’s job, but what I believe is automation is here. This is not a future problem, this is a now problem.”

If Huggins is elected to the Durham City Council, she says she will partner with current and future employers in Durham to make sure residents still have employment opportunities.

She also promises to work with local job training programs, Durham Tech, nearby Universities and Durham Public Schools to get residents and students ready for the workforce.

“These changes are taking place now,” Huggins said. “We need to prepare Durham residents so that they have the skills, training and education they need for jobs that will be available.”

After the primary election held on October 10, Huggins was among the top six choices for City Council seats with a voting percentage of 9.71. Nate Baker, Javiera Caballero, Carl Rist, Khalilah Karim and Monique Holsey-Hyman were the others voted in the top six.

Edited by Lauren Baddour and Ryan Christiano

Caroline Daly is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Media and Journalism with the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, focused on sports broadcasting.

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