On Automation

I’ve seen discussion on automation come up, usually in discussions about raising minimum wage for fast food workers. It goes something like this:

“Well, if they raise the minimum wage, then the person will just get replaced with a kiosk.”

A thought which shows a lack of vision in what I see as the actual problem.

I was reading about robots in fast food restaurants, and the comment, which was a few years ago, was that the machines that could assemble your food were going for $40,000 a piece.

Ok, math time. Let’s assume a restaurant is open from 5 AM to 11 PM, which is 18 hours. Open every day of the year. So, 365 days, 18 hours per day, $7.25 per hour minimum wage is: $47,700.

Meaning that we, humans, are already more expensive than that machine. It would take less than a year to pay off.

But that isn’t the real problem. The problem isn’t “they will replace low paid workers with robots” the problem is “they will replace us all.”

When I talk about automation, here is what I mean. The guy who owns the fast food company will hit a button.

“Siri, we need three new stores in Ohio.”

“Yes sir,” Siri replies.

Siri (or whatever the digital assistant is at this time) then searches the areas for where there is land for sale, and cross checks that with any historical trends they have. Finds three plots that will be suitable.

She then tells the A.I. lawyers to draw up the purchasing paperwork. Once the land is purchased, those same A.I. lawyers then submit the planning and zoning paperwork.

The A.I. architects tailor the current designs for the spots, and send the build list back to Siri who purchases all of the necessary raw materials.

Those materials are shipped via driverless truck to location, where robotic construction crews are already waiting. Those crews work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the store is finished.

Then driverless trucks deliver the internal robots: they make the food, they clean the store, the load and unload shipments.

From there, the store opens, driverless trucks deliver the food, robots process orders and make the food. Hell if you want, their own driverless cars and drones can deliver the food to whoever ordered it.

Oh, and all those robots? Built by robots. We already do that now.

Not a human needed.

The impact alone, economically, of driverless trucks will be immense. Truck driving is one of the last areas where a high school graduate can sustain a middle class life.

Think your job is safe? I doubt it.

Here is another one. You decide you want to watch a movie.

“Siri, I’d like a space western type movie, light comedy, anime style, no make that photo-realistic.”

“Alright, I will let you know when it is ready.”

From there, an A.I. writes the movie script, animates it, renders the movie, and sends it too you.

“I included the novelization for your as well.” Siri proudly says.

When we talk automation, we are talking about taking the human worker out of the equation at nearly every level. Doctors, lawyers, pilots, drivers, builders, even artists, all replaced.

What do we do when there isn’t enough work for everyone? When we can’t afford to buy goods made by human hands because we aren’t paid well enough to support each other?

So when we talk automation, the problem isn’t the kiosk, it never was. The problem is what do we hold valuable–humanity or profits?