Jul 302013

Coming soon? Already here (so long as your definition of “here” includes Japan or China):

Why robots could soon replace fast food workers demanding higher minimum wage

People are demanding $15/hour to flip burgers, which would seem to be a whole lot of money for a job that requires virtually no skill. Robots can do these jobs *now.* However, do the math:

$15/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year = $31,200. Add in benefits and social security taxes and whatnot, the cost to the company might be on the order of $40,000/year. I have doubts that a multi-functional robotic burger flipper can be procured for that amount, though a robotic noodle bar chef in China is reported to cost only $1500. This price would of course be much higher in the US, but as the cost of humans increases, the cost of robots will decrease, and one of these days entry-level positions, the sort of jobs high schoolers get, will no longer be available to humans.

 Posted by at 10:10 am
  • Anonymous


  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    This is the same logic that led to ATMs.

  • Bruce

    “In The Year 2525”.

  • philot

    I hope they also have robotic hamburger customers on the drawing board.

    I had read somewhere that a lot of crap jobs could already be automated. But it was still cheaper to hire people, so they weren’t.

  • Anonymous

    Even if the machine costs 10 times as much as the employee, if the machine can work for more than 10 years with minimal maintenance costs, then it becomes cost effective. I doubt many franchises would pay the whole price up front, so if they can cut a deal where their monthly payments are less than they’d pay for the displaced workers, then they come out ahead.

    But that’s math, and math is hard…

    • Anonymous

      >if the machine can work for more than 10 years with minimal maintenance costs

      There’s yer problem, right there…

      • Anonymous

        Numbers pulled from nether regions:-). The point, of course, what that amortized over time, automated food-assembly tech can well be cheaper than teen labor.

        • Anonymous

          One can hope.

          The question will eventually become – and one I’ve raised before – when robots are capable of doing a sizable fraction of all the jobs done today by humans… what to do with all the humans?

          Gene Roddenberry, for ST:TNG, assumed that once technology gets to where it can do all the work, mankind would be “freed,” that we’d all traipse off to better ourselves with science and art and philosophy and such with all that free time. I suggest, instead, to look at current high-welfare regions to see what people *actually* do when they have their basic needs taken care off and don’t need to work for ’em.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, that’s a legitimate concern. I read _Life at the Bottom_ and see what is probably the most likely future:-(.

            But such predictions have been made before, and proven chimerae, so hopefully the same will apply again. Of course tying welfare payments to tubal ligations and vasectomies would probably help too, but somehow I don’t see that happening any time soon.

          • Anonymous

            > such predictions have been made before

            Well, when jobs have been automated before, there were always other no- to low-skill jobs for the displaced to move over to. But we’re getting to the point where it is not insane to envision a human-shaped robot that can do any job a dimwitted 17-year-old can do, perhaps including dealing with customers face-to-face. I had a recent post about robots that might take the place of farm hands, negating the utility of a whole lot of illegal aliens.

            When/if the USR NS-4 series comes online, that can do everything from burger flipping to dogwalking to package delivery, there will be a whole lot of people real nervous about their futures.

          • publiusr

            Well, if everyone had a replicator, they wouldn’t need jobs or pay so there would be no complaints. The problem is folks out of work who have no money cannot be consumers, especially if automation doesn’t make the product cheaper. That is always a threat. Charge the same even if the cost to make a unit is cheaper per item. You can get away with that for a while–but even skinflints understand that you need to pay folks enough to afford your own product–or no one will buy it. Sort of like overpriced QMX replica of JJ Trek ships 🙂

  • Bill H

    OK since this is robotic, I can’t resist. One minute of very funny: http://funny-shit-blog.blogspot.com/2013/04/dalek-relaxation.html

  • Rick

    Expect SEIU to start agitating for the unionization of robots. As long as there’s dues paid, they’ll get support-which is why SEIU really loves the idea of grossly overpaid fast food workers. Dues are based not on take-home, nor on hours worked, but on overall hourly rate. Thats why they allow negotiations for “furloughs” and unpaid leave but fight to keep hourly rates from being affected.

  • Anton

    You forget something utterly massive, burgerflippers do not get fulltime. I work at Bojangles(which is like KFC, but with Cajun), only managers get fulltime, the rest of us are part-time and are limited to just 20 hours a week average, and that’s with a $7.50 wage.

    I foresee the rest of the fast food industry doing the hour limit if they haven’t already, so in the end, it won’t matter to them if the Min. Wage goes up, they’ll just lower the hour limit. Frankly, what’s needed is not a Min Wage increase, but the setting of a Min. Work Hours.