the-future-of-workThere have long been people writing about the future of work and where it is headed. An oft repeated consensus is that we will all be sitting at home in our jammies – communicating and collaborating across the internets, no central buildings needed, but – is that really where we are going and what we really want ?

I myself have written about ‘the death’ of the corporation. that knowledge workers will operate virtually and with ‘value contracts, where the beneficiary is paid for value delivered – not for time involved. (Of course that is kind of what happens now – though disguised. The partner in a law firm is paid a lot more per hour than a junior associate – that is reflective of value. But I think it needs to – and will – go a lot further.

From where I sit, there is a lot more going on. We are already witnessing the uprooting of what I might call the creative industries – music, photography, art, illustration, writing are all feeling the pressure of the changing economy. In these worlds I have argued that

  • if your product can move through the internet – so can your competition
  • the barriers to entry to those industries are removed since there is no gatekeeper (which is good and bad – but that is a different article).

In that model, I have suggested that if your offer is in fact a ‘local model’ for example like in the service industry – you will be harder to replace. The argument being that (for example) if I need a musician to play at my party – that my pool of choice is only those musicians that are available

  • at that time
  • in that geography

I think this starts to explain the rise of importance of concerts to the artist. Apart from the fact that they are often far more in control of the concert they deliver today, than their catalogue owned my a music publisher – the catalogue is a product that has been sold – over and over again in format after format – the live concert is unique and different and original. This goes across the board waiters, cooks, shop keepers and and …. in fact

At least 50 percent of the people working in the American job market today are working in people-powered industries like fast-food restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.), retail stores (Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, Toys “R” Us, etc.), delivery companies (the post office, Fedex, UPS, etc.), construction, airlines, amusement parks, hotels and motels, warehousing and so on. All of these jobs are prime targets for robotic replacement.

… this from an article by Marshall Brain who posits that robots are ‘a-coming’. Of course they are – but how quickly. Real quick apparently, which is throwing up/out the future of work models before they have even been understood – much less implemented. Do you think waiters will be replaced by robots in the next ten years ? Supermarket checkout staff are already being replaced by technology – so who is next ?

More to come on this topic, but first I would love to hear from you and what you think. Comments below please. Let’s have the conversation.

38 thoughts on “A Future Of Work – Robots Coming To A Restaurant Near You

  1. This seems to be an exponential curve as companies reap the benefits of lower labor costs. Eventually it may well end up like a story I heard back in my aviation days where the cockpit crew will consist of a pilot and a dog. The dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches anything. We have seen it in many industries where the jobs of 40 years ago are not coming back. The capacity of the US steel industry has remained the same yet instead of 600,000 workers back then there are only 150,000 or so today.

  2. Innovation is inevitable. The human race constantly marches forward. Increasing standards and levels in education will be of utmost importance as we strive toward excellency. Key local goods and services of impeccable quality at an extraordinary price will always be valued highly(cheapest price/poor quality). Lack of barriers lead to increased competition globally. Artisans, musicians and artists are in high demand due to vary unique talents and are now able to travel globally with ease. Self checkout supermarkets and outsourced satellite call centers are already here. Robots are already on the way and we’ll await their arrival to make lower level work easier so we human beings can focus on increasing knowledge at record pace for generations to come.

  3. i think this topic is valid but written, oh, maybe 50-100 years too early. is no one worried about what ‘outsourcing’ has done to manufacturing and production, for example, in the United States? how about education (U.S.)? this country is going to be left behind as a world power the way things are going. my advice? teach your children to learn Chinese/Mandarin, because in 20 years, you’re going to need it.

  4. I never wanted to be another piece of the machine or brick in the wall. We are leaving the industrial age and entering the information age. Now the work is to define our humanity.

  5. Robots will replace workers the second they can provide the same service at a lower cost. Profit-driven companies will always go for the most cost-effective solution, because if they don’t, they lose out to competitors who do.

    As Harold notes, there are experiences that current robots cannot replace – the sense of personal service in a fine restaurant, to use his example. And, right now, some of the self-serve technology is flawed. Supermarket auto-checkout lines are finicky and require you to do more work, so going through a “human” line is still easier. Once they are reliable and faster for the consumer and cheaper for the company, you’ll see a fast transition.

    I don’t view chatting with the supermarket checker as value added to the process, so I won’t resist that change. Just as I haven’t resisted shifting buying books to Amazon and now to downloading. We’ll all change and adapt at our own pace, but I do believe the changes are well underway.

    So… if robots can and will replace workers in many service jobs, what happens to all those people? That’s the trillion dollar question. We have not found a way to re-deploy all the factory workers. We haven’t found entry-level jobs to replace the assistant positions lost to computerization of many fields. So, how will we deal with the dual challenge of increased U.S. automation and increased outsourcing?

    Right now, we have a whole generation of young people who can’t find jobs that use their expensive educations. That’s not just because of the financial collapse. It’s because computers and outsourcing have eliminated the jobs. My own ad agency used to have a team of support workers for each Art Director. One junior designer to assist, another to assemble, and clerical workers to package and deal with messengers. Now the Art Director saves the file and sends it out… which has eliminated 3-4 jobs. (The very assistant jobs that trained the Art Directors and the clerical jobs that provided professional jobs for high school graduates.) That’s happened over the last 15 years. We’re not an “evil” company. It would just be silly to hire people to sit around and do nothing. Multiply those decisions by all the companies and you have millions of disappearing jobs. And, now even the Art Director can be outsourced, along with the bookkeeper, the accountant, and scores of other professional jobs.

    I’m not sure what the answer is. Theoretically, everyone could be self-employed… but you still have the question of what will they be doing? Who will pay them to do it? How will they learn to do it if entry-level jobs continue to be displaced by automation?

    This is a huge issue and I fear that the country is not recognizing the magnitude of the change. I am sure that innovation will lead to some new jobs we haven’t even thought of today. Will it be enough? Maybe. What happens if it isn’t? I don’t know.

  6. Yes the arts indeed are going through yet another change … but remember when the camera was first invented, they said people would never buy a painting again? But they did and they still do despite the internet, wall screens etc. I feel that we roll with the changes, reinvent ourselves and rise to the challenges….. at the end of the day, it is the creative folk who invent the ‘new’ so we only have ourselves to blame…. we could stop thinking up new ideas and keep everything the same but then…. er anyway robots create pretty boring stuff don’t they — really they all run to a formula so viva ‘the human’!

    • Many thanks for the comment – with you all the way – and I agree that the creative people will work through it and surge – to the next level – and absolutely NOT suggesting that they will be replaced by robots 🙂

  7. An interesting article and interesting comments as well. As robots become more of a part of the economic model I feel like that model will change, much like the industrial revolution gave rise to the leisure class. It was due to the rise of the leisure class that people were able to contemplate and create new technologies and innovations, and I don’t think that this type of growth process will change. I think it is fundamental to the human experience. We talk about having to feed. clothe and house people, but mass production should make that less expensive, improvements in transportation will make logistics easier and easier. Eventually we should move to economic model where needs are addressed and work isn’t rewarded with money. Even now people are starting to be able to distinguish between “money” i.e. tickets of exchange, wealth and illth. Wealth is, more and more, becoming equated with information/technology rather than piles of money. Perhaps we’ll also begin to change our notions of endeavor to not be associated with keeping a supply of menial jobs for workers so that they can make money …which is a sort of place we’ve allowed our thinking to fall into. If someone says, “in the future there won’t be “jobs”,” many in today’s mindset would react with panic. But that might not be such a bad thing. Some things will always require a human touch. We might be able to make an algorithm that composes music or art, but that would be a novelty, since the internal expression that causes art to be what it is, is ultimately human. If someone told me that the music industry would die, I would rejoice …because then maybe music would go back to being a communal and communicative expression once again, instead of just another aspect of a culture that has become mindlessly addled on consumerism. I guess all of this is to say that I’m still optimistic.

  8. I’m all for increasing the efficiency we operate under as a culture as this is how advancement happens, we free up an area from intensive manual labor and make a tool that makes it a bit easier, so that a certain amount of time and manpower can then be invested in a different direction. The balance we’ll have to strive for is to look after the lowest members of society better while at the same time motivating them to get out and get productive in some way. Society works best when we are all being productive and it only works better if you can increase the efficiency of that productivity. Education needs to be looked at too, because with the death of the menial job more people will have to take on jobs that ask more from us…but you need an education system that produces people smart enough for this…lots to ponder

  9. IMO, we are still a few years away from free mobile style computers, and the AI still has a few years, until being able to move a robot around a room, without a ‘driver’. I think that assembly line style jobs would be replaced by robots, prior to placing them in public areas. Can you picture using robots for a fashion show, with a runway?

    • Dennis – actually I can – but the decor of the room is incredibly futuristic 🙂

      Many thanks for the comment. Given of course that Google are already working on cars driving without human drivers, I do wonder if this might be happening a little quicker than we might think. That said others in these comments have talked of the fast food world – so though the person serving you food at the drive in window of Maccy Ds might not be a ‘waiter’ per se – they are a person who serves food to you – and I can easily see that replacement.

      All good stuff. I think the wider POV is that if jobs like this continue to give way – just as manufacturing jobs have – what do we do with the ‘surplus’ humans – unfortunate – but specifically chosen word BTW, since I have this feeling that humans will soon be described in such a way.

  10. There will be a divergence in delivery models in the service industry based on the price point paid and the experience desired. Food service is the easy example of this and is already playing out. When you order from your car at a fast food restaurant, you have no idea if the voice is local or distant. You don’t even care. This is an obvious place that technology will replace a person. You will order from a touch screen, phone, or voice recognition software. It will be faster, cheaper, and more consistent. Exactly as the fast food industry is trying to achieve. If on the other hand, you go for fine dining part of the experience that you are buying is charming, helpful, and entertaining waitstaff. They provide a consultative sales process to improve your experience. The human touch is critical on the front of that experience and even in the back. The chef can make the adjustments you desire from an infinite palate, The fast food is produced on an assembly line with conveyor belts and assembly lines already. More automation will improve the process. The divergence in food service is a model for the rest of the service industry…and a warning.

  11. We are already seeing the transformation of how people work as a result of changes in technology. Not only is manufacturing being revolutionized through robotics, but we are also seeing technology making inroads in the professions of accounting, law, and medicine. The ability of robotics and artificial intelligence to replace human capacity will transform the way people think about the nature of work itself. The traditional assumptions and ideas about jobs, hours of work, and the role of people and technology will be fundamentally different. That future is not very far away in some industries, and is already here in others. The ability of society to adapt to technological change has been tested in the past, and will be tested again in the present and future as well. A new relationship between humans and technology will emerge. The questions to be resolved will include the structure of society, jobs, the economy, equality and even democracy. The future will be driven by technological change, and the challenges will be how humans and society adapt to those changes, and how that future society will look, act, and behave.

  12. Having suffer
    ed several experiences recently when a robot would frankly have offered a better level of service the advent of robots often has appeal BUT as a keen chess player I equally regret the day the robot beat tjeGM
    Chess has never been the same since. What is clear to all is that whether the competitor is a robot or simply a “competitor” who is trying to offer a higher level of service ,nothing will ever be the same again
    No jobs for life and no “jobs for the boys”

    The REALLY interersting question is,of course, just how far WE, as humans, allow the robots into our lives. In the motor Industry millions of jobs were lost for ever through automation. These jobs will never be replaced

    • Steve – you must go to the same places I do !!!!

      I think you are hitting on my unwritten point. Jobs are hard to come by right now AND t is recognized that we have a massive education process to move Western Populations ‘up the food chain’ to the jobs that will be available. But that aside, the skills gap issue is enormous. The minimum wage is already at a chronically low level – robots will push that down – but we will still have people on the planet that need to be fed, clothed, housed (at least that is what I would assume we would be doing ?)

      How do we pay for that ?

  13. People are social, having a robot as a waiter may be a novelty at first, but it would wear off. Why go out at all when you can simply pull something out of your freezer and toss it in the microwave? Or pick up your order in the drive through, go home and eat? Only reason for going through the auto checkout is you only have a few things, and the other lines are long.

    Retail stores, I see those becoming less important as more shopping is done online. Amazon has quite the robotic setup for processing orders. I see that becoming more of the retail model unless their is some kind of local value, such as fitting and alteration, personal service as a massage (although in many malls that is now done by machines.)

    I do see more working from home, hopefully for themselves. More layoffs in the future, less pay, especially for those who work for local governments, which unlike the federal government can’t print more money on demand. Less long term stable jobs. The need to watch the changes and change.

    • I think I agree that it won’t be an instantaneous switch over – but I do wonder how fast it is going to happen in the low end chain restaurants. A robot to deliver your morning latte at Peets or Starbucks, keeping the price of my latte down – or the sourpuss that so often greets you over the counter – and for that I am contributing to their salary ?

  14. I agree. I am not sure how quickly it will happen but technology and robots are going to be taking away jobs that people have today. It is a sad fact but it is where the future is heading.

    • So what will the people who would ‘expect’ to be doing those jobs [ and I know nobody ‘expects’ to do them – but they do ] be doing in the future do you think Miriam ?

  15. Regrettably, many jobs will be replaced by robots or technology. Within the next ten years, I don’t know. I am still one of those people who do not use the automated check-out at the grocer. I have a home office and enjoy human interaction when I’m out and about. Technology being what it is, there is less face-to-face with people and I find it a bit sad.

    • I know what you mean Paula – I bypass those confounded things as well. Then again I know ‘real book’ readers who eschew e-readers – but that hasn’t reduced the onslaught of those devices into the public consciousness – and of course we live in an age where if you are 21 – you know nothing of living in a world without the world wide web.

      Meanwhile – I also wonder about where the jobs for those people will now be. Yes, there will always be boutiques where personal human service will be available – but that will be the exception rather than the rule – when I was a kid I took vacation jobs as a garbage man. Part of a gang of 5 in high season. Today 4 of those people no longer have a job – we see a driver and an automated bin pick up system on the back of a truck – that itself has a three times the capacity of the trucks I happily rode on the back of.

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