It Starts With The Barista, But Eventually Millions of US Workers Will Lose Their Jobs

by Tim Sloane 0

Over the next 10 years machine learning tools and robots (please stop laughing!) will destroy US employment as we know it. We need a transition plan today, before every barista and 3.5 million professional truck drivers are out of a job. This article describes the barista robot:

“Like a scene right out of “The Jetsons,” patrons at Cafe X, a new coffee shop in San Francisco, can have their cup of joe served up to them by a robot. Yes, an actual robot.

Located in the Metreon shopping center, Cafe X customers simply place their order using their smartphone or an iPad kiosk, which then sends the order to the robo-barista. According to The Wall Street Journal, in less than one minute, the robot, which uses a Mitsubishi six-axis arm to grab a cup, pumps in some syrup, places it in front of one of its coffee-brewing cores and lowers the beverage into one of eight warming stations that will keep your brew hot for up to eight minutes.”

Related to payments, the increased use of robots and driverless cars suggests that unattended payments will be on the rise. This in turn suggests a growing opportunity to think through new approaches to managing payment acceptance that will reduce fraud and vandalism in those unattended situations.

Note that Baristas and drivers are not the only ones facing unemployment. In the report “Robots and industrialization in developing countries” published October last year, the UN predicts that robots will threaten two thirds of jobs in developing countries because “The increased use of robots in developed countries risks eroding the traditional labour cost advantage of developing countries.” Said another way, manufacturing will return to America, but robots will replace American laborers and construct products for far less than it costs to pay a person to do the same job in China, India or anyplace else.

This is going to happen faster than most think. Consider the announcement that the Chinese company Foxconn, that utilizes low cost Chinese labor to makes displays for mobile phones, is ready to invest $7 billion to build an automated plant right here in the USA. This is a double edged sword. While such a plant will supply a few high paying jobs to the economy such a plant will require very few assembly line workers. This is a harbinger of what all manufacturing plants in the US will look like in the future. Raw material goes in, finished product comes out. Production line workers reduced to almost zero.

The challenge ahead of us is to decide if the speed with which this transition occurs should be moderated, which goes against many American principles. If we enable this technology to displace all of the workers that it possibly can, as quickly as it can, unemployment will skyrocket and income disparity will increase significantly creating even greater unrest.

Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group

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