How Will Automation Affect Employment?
To improve customer service, well-loved fast food chain Mcdonald's, recently launched digital kiosks for ordering. This automated system is purported to minimise direct employee-customer dealings, as well as lengthy back-and-forth when ordering food. Although such a phenomena could be seen as an extension of the brand's online website ordering service, the new development has sparked quite the debate as to how this kind of advancement will affect employment.
On the onset, the kiosks could be seen as "replacements" for cashiers -- is this really the case? And if so, what does this mean for both consumers and food producers?
Shifts Across Time
It is well known that the earliest technological shift in modern society was the industrial revolution in the late 16th century. During this pivotal time, the factory assembly line began to take form, production of consumer goods increased in number, and the amount of systematic (proto-corporate) employment found its pattern and place in the growing modern world. Soon after, this developed a market demand for advertising; thus, pushing forward the necessity for fast printing and text pressing, among other technological advancements driven by the market.
Fast forward to the turn of the 19th century, the next big shift came in the form of the camera, which sparked a quicker progression of gadget modernisation. The ability to capture scenes, people, and moments shook society in many ways never seen before. Painters couldn't compete with the accuracy in which the camera was able to capture real life. This modernisation not only affected the market, but, moreover, ideology, culture, and society. Photo-technology eventually found itself in the homes of most people across the globe, which led to the creation of the film camera and along with it, the movie industry and more creative tech.
Come the 21st century, the internet is born, and technology has mutated far more than anyone could have imagined.
Technology: Good or Bad?
Across time, technology has been a double-edged sword. With new ways to create and dessiminate materials and produce, often times, ways-of-old are rendered obsolete. There will always be this battle between what was and what is to become -- a constant pull between tradition and the contemporary. If we go back to the initial inquiry as to how automation may affect employment, there is much to be dissected.
How can a machine approximate human service? For the food industry (and other fast-paced manufacturing), it would appear that automation woud save on time, lessen human error, and perhaps, create a quicker, more efficient assembly line -- or in the case of Mcdonald's -- customer queue.
An opposing argument could be put forward, however -- does efficiency trump service? In another angle, how does humanity figure in the digital world, and vice versa. With more technological advancements finding its way in our palms (read: smartphones, tablets, laptops), and our daily lives -- how can the human touch compete with the quickness of a machine?
Just as how the painters of the 19th century battled with the technology of the camera, today we are met with the same challenge: how do we adapt? Although automation seems scary and promising at the same time, the possibilities of digitalisation create opportunities for humanity and its betterment. With the help of such tech, we are now better suited to fight elements (diseases and other calamities) we simply had no capability of defeating before.
In Martin Ford's 2015 book entitled "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future", he mentions "as robotics and advanced self-service technologies are increasingly deployed across nearly every economic sector of the economy, they will primarily theaten lower-wage jobs... [which] currently make up the vast majority of the new positions generated by the economy".
The opposite argument is made by Federico Pistono in his 2014 book, Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK, here he discusses the benefits of machinery in replacing high-labor, low-yield jobs. If we take both sides of the same coin, we are met with a continuing conundrum as to just how good or bad technology is for the economy, market, and society-at-large.
Technology's role in society continues to evolve everyday, with every new discovery and paradigm shift. Perhaps, this serves as a challenge for all us as to how we can use and wield these advancements for the greater good. The Mcdonald's kiosks are symbolic of this dilemma: how do we value our fellow humans in this largely automated and digital world?
Although machines are capable of doing things with the speed and accuracy beyond what is humanly-possible, what cannot be replicated [thus far] is the instinct and ability to weigh a situation beyond mere algorithm. Here, the question becomes less about economics, hinging closer to philosophy -- or metaphysics.
How will automation affect employment? is a question for each of us to assess and answer in our own lens, for it stems from something much deeper than just logistics, market trend, and food production -- it touches on the very rubrics of what makes us human.