Automation Today! Unemployment Tomorrow?

We had a mini date night last evening. After several considerations, we decided to eat outside at Portillo’s. The weather was perfect for sitting on the patio.

As I waited for our order to be ready, I was watching the kitchen staff preparing orders as they came through. They definitely have routines and procedures down to a “T.” What surprised me, because I never really thought about it, was the burger/bun machine.

In looking around, I was looking for a grill. Then I saw a flame off to the right. It took me a minute to realize the machine had a conveyor belt. The belt was moving slowly, or should I say belts. While the top belt was going over the flame for the burgers, the bottom belt was going under with buns. I don’t know if the chicken or hot dogs also go through as I only saw burgers on the belt.

My mind began wondering at what point would there be a machine that not only cooked the meat and warmed the buns, but also did a number of other duties. Would it also load the burgers on the belt? Warm the buns, then add the condiments and the meat, before dropping into an environmental-friendly box, and placed in a bag with fries.

Earlier this afternoon, I saw an article about how orders are now being placed using voice recognition software. At some fast food joints, one now orders via a touch screen instead with the counter help. If memory serves me correctly, there is one chain piloting having no interaction at all with a human…order, pay, and the food drops down a chute or such to grab and go.

Each time something gets automated, people either lose their jobs or jobs go away. Each time I see a new automation, such as self-serve check-out lines, I think of Andrew Yang’s book, The War on Normal People, which talks about future employment/unemployment. Specifically, it discusses who will be unemployed and the anger, angst, and trouble that is highly like to occur due to the unemployable. They will lack the skills for the 21st Century.

My first thought was actually about teens. Most of us, as teens, worked in a restaurant or fast food as our starter jobs. If most jobs in a fast food restaurant are done by teens (or retirees needing extra funds), and if those jobs go away, where will teens gain work experience.

I’m a technology person who enjoys what technology can do for us. However, as I have grown older, I can also see the unintended, or possibly intended, consequences of technology. At what point does automation for automation sake, for greedy companies to increase profits, become an idea that defeats itself. After all, if one doesn’t have a job, then one doesn’t have income, which means no consumers.

Are businesses thinking that far into the future? Or do they know and don’t care? They don’t care because those making the decisions already have theirs, and the heck with everyone else. They’ll have their money already and it won’t matter what happens to the rest of us?

Please, when you go into a store or a restaurant, do what you can to use a real person. If we all refuse to use the automation, maybe we’ll save a job or two, or at least delay the inevitable.

See you in the full-service line!

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