A burger flipping robot has started its first shift at work in a burger chain in California. For some it’s a great advancement, a step forward in robotics. For others…. well, it could be a portent of things to come.
First off, this burger flipping robot is not perfect and does make mistakes. This is something that the owners are willing to accept because “hey, if you spent your day flipping burgers you’d make mistakes too….” – which is not exactly what I want from any robot I come into contact with. Think of Hal9000 with a spatula rather than an airlock.
A robot is programmed to fulfil a task, if it fails to complete that task then is it really any more effective than a human? Cost-wise it’s probably cheaper (which is where this post is going) with an initial outlay of $60k then $12k a year to run. Ignoring any rogue spatula based catastrophes that require compensation to an unsuspected but perfectly grilled passing human, these robots are cheaper and less problematic to operate than a human burger flipper.
How? Currently, minimum wage in California is $10.50 per hour which works out at just over $20k per year (rising to $15 in 2022 – $29,250pa). Financially these robots will pay for themselves in less than three years because they don’t need holidays, aren’t entitled to workers comp, or any of the other associated costs to businesses that pesky employees attract.
Which brings us to the point of this post. For every menial, mindless, monotonous, boring job out there: the only reason a human does it is because there’s not currently an cheaper way for a robot to do it. While I 100% back increases in wages to keep up with the cost of living, on the flip side we’re also encouraging employers to mitigate those pay rises. No company enjoys paying wages and as is seen practically everywhere profits go to shareholders instead of investing in people.
The makers of robots and futurists say that while jobs will be lost to robots, other jobs will be created to replace them. However, you only have to look at the industrial revolution to see that with mechanisation came unemployment for skilled workers – as their jobs were replaced by steam powered mills and engines. People left the countryside for the cities in search of work, and many only found the workhouses. In more modern times here in the UK the shipyards, the steel mills, the coal mines have closed with thousands of people made unemployed and unable to find replacement employment.
There will come a time when practically every job will be done by a robot (unless we blow the planet up first), and I’m hard pressed to come up with anything that we can do that feasibly a robot could not. Although hopefully, in the future, we’ll be more “there are failsafes in place to prevent accidents” rather than “yeah, it makes mistakes sometimes”.