By David Gracey
Robots are taking American jobs! If you keep up with news, that is the message you probably hear on a daily basis. While it is true that automation and technology are replacing human tasks at a record pace, it is also true that machines have been replacing human tasks for centuries.
While the pain of this change is most acute for a person who loses a job to a machine, the fact is this change must happen. The benefit to society outweighs the damage done to the individual worker. Many people think the implementation of the increasing minimum wage in some markets like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York is the cause of the change, but the reality is the change is coming, and a $15 minimum wage might only be accelerating it.
Here are a few ways automation and technology are changing our daily lives:
Starbucks App: Okay, so this isn’t a robot, but it is a significant improvement in the hot beverage service industry. Starbucks, maker of over-roasted (some would say burned) coffee, is an extremely popular business, particularly during the morning hours. Lines can get quite long while their customers order such concoctions as a Venti, half-caff, vanilla soy latte with extra foam. When you pay $6 for a cup of coffee, you want it like you want it. So the customer queue can get quite long while folks put in their orders and the baristas craft the drinks. But fear not! Technology has helped this problem.
Starbucks recently developed a mobile app that lets its customers order their favorite beverage in advance. When you arrive a few minutes later, your coffee treat is waiting for you. Skip the line, go directly in, and pick up your coffee. You don’t even have to speak to anyone! Some Starbucks have a self-service pickup spot, while busier locations keep the advance orders behind the counter. Just walk up to the pickup counter and tell them your name. This advance order saves a tremendous amount of time (and money for the business) and hassle. The app is tied to your credit card and recharges on a schedule you set. Additionally, favorite orders can be saved, so if you are a creature of habit like me, you can simply create your custom order and save it for future use. Very handy.
Self-service kiosks: Minimum wage labor is the largest line item for many fast food restaurants. These thin-margin businesses must keep a close eye on their labor force in order to stay profitable. Panera and McDonalds are early adopters in using kiosks to take customer orders, and they are rolling out the kiosks at many of their restaurants. Customers enter the restaurant, and instead of walking up to a counter, they are given the option of putting in their orders on one of about a dozen tablet computers set up around the restaurant lobby. So far, the results have been very positive. Customers don’t mind entering their own orders, and it helps them avoid long lines. The business owners like it because the kiosks help keep their costs down by controlling one of their biggest line items.
Autonomous driving: This is the mother of all changes and certainly one of the biggest impacts on the economy since the invention of the Internet. Everyone agrees that autonomous vehicles are in our future. The only question that remains is the speed in which adoption and integration occur into our current transportation infrastructure. Tesla is a company that has been a major accelerator (pun intended) of the development of this technology. Other automakers are scrambling to catch up, and some are making great strides.
Automated transportation would have significant changes to our society. Imagine a time when people no longer own cars but instead pay a subscription to a transportation service. Houses no longer need to have a garage. Parking lots at office buildings are no longer needed, freeing up valuable real estate. The number of accidents will dramatically decrease since almost all traffic accidents are human error. This literally saves thousands of lives. The capacity of our transportation infrastructure will increase because cars will communicate with each other and be able to respond to changes in traffic at a much better pace. We will have to retrain our driving work force, as there are millions of workers who drive long haul trucks, local delivery vehicles, and taxis.
Change is coming from automation and technology. It always has. The benefits to society will be profound and significant. We will have to manage the change and take care of those most affected.
Do you see these technological, even robotic, changes as advances or threats?