As politicians hike up minimum wage, robots threaten to displace fast-food workers

July 17, 2015

Submitted by:  Veronica Coffin

Written by

CNBC reports that fast-fooder McDonald’s continues to tank.

The 6-month outlook for McDonald’s franchisees is at an all-time low, according to a survey by restaurant industry analyst Mark Kalinowski. Some 29 franchisees, who collectively own and operate 208 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States, were asked to give their 6-month forecast from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). The average response was 1.69, the lowest in the survey’s 12-year history. 

Previously, the lowest rating was 1.81, which was recorded just 3 months ago.

Those 29 franchisees said their same-store sales fell 2.3% in June—2 full percentage points worse than Wall Street expectations.

One franchisee said, “At least half of the operators in my region are on [the] verge of collapse. With minimum wage for fast food workers potentially increasing to incredibly high levels, we are facing a crisis situation.

Those minimum-wage workers should know that it won’t be long before employers turn to robots, instead of fork over ever higher wages.

Here’s a report by Dylan Love for Business Insider a year ago:

A company called Momentum Machines has built a robot that could radically change the fast-food industry and have some line cooks looking for new jobs.

The company’s robot can “slice toppings like tomatoes and pickles immediately before it places the slice onto your burger, giving you the freshest burger possible.” The robot is “more consistent, more sanitary, and can produce ~360 hamburgers per hour.” That’sone burger every 10 seconds.

The next generation of the device will offer “custom meat grinds for every single customer. Want a patty with 1/3 pork and 2/3 bison ground to order? No problem.”

Momentum Machines cofounder Alexandros Vardakostas told Xconomy his “device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient. It’s meant to completely obviate them.” Indeed, marketing copy on the company’s site reads that their automaton “does everything employees can do, except better.” […]

Here’s a schematic of what the burger-bot looks like and how it works. It occupies 24 square feet, so it’s much smaller than most assembly-line fast-food operations. It boasts “gourmet cooking methods never before used in a fast food restaurant” and will even deposit your completed burger into a bag. It’s a veritable Gutenberg printing press for hamburgers.

fast food robot
Meanwhile, a robot’s been built which shows a glimmer of self-awareness.

Duncan Geere reports for techradar, July 16, 2015, that roboticists at the Ransselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have built a trio of robots that were put through a variation of the classic ‘wise men puzzle’ test of self-awareness – and at least one of them passed.

Two of the three robots were prevented from talking, then all three were asked which one was still able to speak. All attempt to say “I don’t know,” but only one robot succeeds. When that robot hears its own voice, it understands that it was not silenced, and says, “Sorry, I know now.”

It might sound a pretty simple task for a human, but it’s not for a robot. The bot must listen to and understand the question, then hears its own voice saying “I don’t know” and recognize it as distinct from another robot’s voice, then connect that with the original question to conclude that it hadn’t been silenced.

In a new interview in The Observer, futurist and Artificial Intelligence developerRay Kurzweil predicts that robots/computers will surpass human intelligence in just 14 years. By the year 2029, computers will not only be able to do all the things that humans do, including learning from experienceand making jokes, they will also be capable of outsmarting us.


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