Robots in fast food.
Hope everyone had a good Christmas and boxing day; today we are here to talk about robots in fast food (and robots replacing jobs in general). Earlier in the day I found a video from IGN talking about how a lot of fast food start ups are using robots in place of humans to make food, with reports that Amazon is looking into using drones instead of people to deliver food, and that robots can already make ramen noodles and flip pizzas. Now this will make some people nervous as their jobs depend on said industries continuing to employ workers, while others see it as a positive step forward – I’m not so sure where I stand in all of this.
When it comes to automation, robots have made manufacturing a lot more efficient so to speak, and have reduced the reliance on human labour while human workers have shifted to other forms of employment (willingly or not). Jobs like cleaning and so forth will still require humans to perform the labour, but a lot of assembly line work and repetitive work can be done by machines as they continue to improve and develop. Indeed I do feel for those who – while the jobs are at times low pay – wish to keep their jobs until they find something better. Lately with the way the economy is going, unskilled workers are finding it harder and harder to attain employment; even educated workers who went to university have to fall back on said jobs as employers within their fields of study do not wish to take a risk on a young worker who – while highly educated – has little real workplace experience (I am generalizing; this attitude may not be with all employers, but it sure seems to be the case based on what I have been through).
That coupled with jobs being outsourced (the ones that can anyways) to overseas offices where wages are lower means that the working folks will feel a squeeze in their earning capabilities which will in turn lead to economic stagnation as workers who feel squeezed will spend less, leading to stores (especially small businesses) to close their doors as they see a lack of customers spending money in their establishment. Some stores that rely on a niche market will even go faster in a worst case scenario as the workers who visit the stores now go less and less to save money – a lot of small stores offer niche services and those folks might be out of work if they cannot keep up with rent and business expenses.
Yet on the other hand we see jobs like manufacturing and flipping burgers and we think: “I don’t want to do this sort of work,” or “this is only temporary.” Coming from the employer’s perspective here for a minute, if a worker only views a job as temporary, that means that the cost associated with hiring a worker will go up and up for said business as employees often leave and need replacing. Now this added with some areas calling for higher minimum wages and you will see small stores who can only afford (small stores, not Walmart – don’t panic so quickly now) to pay a worker 10.50 an hour now has to shrink its work force and revert to the family running the shop. Summer job seekers from both university and high school will now have less and less opportunities to earn that tuition money forcing them to either give up on their education goals immediately, seek to enlist in the military (which is getting more selective as the demand for troops is shrinking), or rely on government loans which they may or may not return after they have graduated (several factors including inability to pay to outright leaving the country to dodge repaying the debt – money the taxpayer then has to shell out to enable the government to recover said loss).
Then there are those who view these jobs as beneath them, and are not concerned to see them go. Honestly in a sane persons mind yes it is true, they would not spend their time working at a fast food joint until they retire – the pay and benefits is nothing compared to other jobs out there like trades, military, and so forth. This cycle of relying on cheap labour for cheap goods can only continue if the cheap labour is eventually replaced with machines which will keep costs down and thus enable people to spend more of their earnings. Whenever I see those specialty shops that sell 50.00 bars of soap, I turn to my nearest supermarket and get a bottle of body wash for about 12.00; anyone can do that math here but it is this mindset of quality and cost that keeps the stores constantly competing for our dollar and at the lowest possible value. Cheap boots and shoes would not be possible without either automation or overseas markets, and while it may seem disturbing that we rely on cheap labour overseas to pay for our shoes, understand that even this little amount of money helps economies elsewhere where investment is almost non-existent, and where without even these cheap labour jobs their people would suffer due to a lack of employment.
It is easy for us to examine things from our perspective, but looking at it from the other side of the fence at places like Vietnam and Cambodia and you see that people over there were poor farmers for a long time until a factory entered the area to provide work. Sure it isn’t as meaningful as a university prof or programmer, but over time jobs like IT and so on end up in the area where people who get a taste of an industrialized world seek to better their children who in turn may be granted an opportunity to get an education thanks to the tax dollars earned by the government who can then send people to school to get trained. This cycle may seem strange and unfair, but it is the only way for some parts of the world to really enter the modern world and pick themselves up out of the dirt (mind you government corruption in some of these places will keep them poor, but let us be optimistic here).
Now all of what I said is all well and fun, but what about the reality many workers face here in North America? Indeed low wage jobs will disappear, but not all of them, and certainly not at the rate our fantasies tell us. Understand that we watch a lot of movies and shows, and this builds a rather unrealistic image in our minds of how things are when compared to what they really are like; some jobs may go, while others will stay. Ultimately skilled cooks in restaurants and so forth will not disappear whereas small shops and food carts might seek to help out their small staff with robots who will not replace, but offer assistance to high workloads. Total replacement is not realistic, because if that were the case then we will have to live in a world where none of us are employed except for PH.D specialists, and eventually the AI will replace them or their consulting work will be shipped overseas, leaving the work force of North America with a massive 80% unemployment number, and to which our government and society will just have to live with as machines continue to replace more and more at the cost of people.
Really though it is up to you how you interpret how things will go in the future; I like to think that while some jobs might disappear, to say that total automation (everything, EVERYTHING – including managers) will come about and that we will all wind up sitting on the grass starving while robots essentially replace us in society as a whole is a bit of a stretch. However robots are coming, and some people will feel the effects. One final note before I end it here for today, manufacturing still employs workers – the robots need maintenance work, and they can only do basic assembly work. The more complex, skilled labour work in work shops will still require people, just not as many as 1945 when machines were little more than metal powered by electricity.
IGN video that inspired this piece: