Saturday 10 December 2016

The robots are coming - but what happens to the workers they replace?

Published 05/11/2016 | 02:30

Amid minimum wage tensions in the US, former McDonald's chief executive Ed Rensi told the Fox television network: 'It's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries' Photo: Depositphotos
Amid minimum wage tensions in the US, former McDonald's chief executive Ed Rensi told the Fox television network: 'It's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries' Photo: Depositphotos

As A child, about this time every year, I'd go to the Big Smoke on a shopping trip with my mother. The highlight was lunch in a department store café, where a rudimentary form of automation operated.

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Cakes and tarts lay ready-sliced on plates behind a bank of glass windows. Customers helped themselves by flipping open a window and carrying their selection to the till, where their first contact with a staff member happened. Presumably, other employees replaced food behind the scenes, but they were invisible.

The novelty of this self-service arrangement impressed me, and I always begged to take our meal break there. One day, predicted another customer in the queue, we'd insert coins into a slot to open the windows and there would be no need to pay someone at the till. How we all marvelled at such a Space Age scenario.

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