More in common than you might think. Interesting how different things intersect in life.
I read an article recently that noted something like 90,000 fast food jobs go unfilled daily. I can believe it – every such place I pass has signs out advertising jobs. Many proclaim free meals, signing bonuses, and other enticements. The industry is in a hurt for hires everywhere it seems.
Automation and Fast Food. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
I stopped off at a McDonalds to get a snack recently while on a trip and I saw one potential solution. There I found a large automated kiosk at which one could place an order. You could still do so with a person at the register, but this was in fact much faster. I accidently ordered twice the food I intended. This illustrates that the customer needs to pay attention with automation. But in general, it works and decreases the demand for labor.
But this is only the beginning. I expect that soon such dining establishments will be the first of many places in which we will be talking to a robot. It might look like a robot. It may be an animatronic humanoid. This might look lifelike enough to be both reassuring and creepy. This is coming faster than anyone thinks. Get used to the idea.
What is interesting to contemplate is where else might such automation show up, soon. It is not hard to imagine this happening where there are chronic labor shortages. It will also come where labor is the dominant cost factor. Truck drivers and taxi drivers come to mind immediately.
How about movie ticket or concession positions? Some level of medical care (taking statistical data, weighing and measuring the patient, etc.). Eventually, your waiter in an upscale restaurant may be a robot. And on it goes. The list could become almost endless.
Who Pays Who for What?
On an unrelated note (but we will relate them shortly), there is a lot of talk about the idea of a guaranteed income. One of the more obscure presidential candidates (Andrew Yang) is talking this up. It has been tried in various places, with generally mixed but good results.
This is somewhat related to experiments done in developing countries with aid programs. In these cases, they dissolved the aid programs. They took the aid money and program costs, turned it all into a pile of cash. They then gave the cash to previous aid recipients. No questions asked, no strings attached.
Up to this point, it is working out. People by and large are using the money to gain economic independence. The return on investment looks good. Combine this with the impressive micro loans model, and you see real game changers.
Here is a Connecting Point
So, how do robot hamburger vendors and guaranteed income relate to each other? I can see the use of robots expanding with remarkable speed, as the technology gets better. At some point, management will want more robots than needed only to address people.
Robots will replace people who want to work. Automation replacing people is nothing new. That is already the largest reason for jobs disappearing now. Jobs are not so often lost to immigrants or companies exporting jobs; they are to technology. It has ever been thus. But this would be on a whole other scale than we see now.
This is on the horizon. We need to think about how to economically and socially address the mixture of people and robots. Maybe we each get a robot who works, and the robot’s “salary” goes to the “owner.” That would only be a partial solution. Robots would appeal to business mostly for lower labor costs.
Can You See the Future?
Some sort of formulation should be possible that touches all the bases. Production costs get lower, quality and reliability get higher. People have enough resources to live. Culture develops to encourage the use of time and resources to enhance life and society.
Maybe I need to go back and watch some old Star Trek episodes for some clues. What do you think? Ready for jobless societies? Ready to have long conversations with someone who runs on lithium batteries? This is all going to be very interesting.
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