Let Them Make Robots

Thanks to Saman Amirpour for pointing me the way of a new IEEE Story by Tekla Perry: Robotics Company Prepares to Take Responsibility for Displaced Workers. Perry explains that Momentum Machines is busy automating the preparation of hamburgers. The machine peaks out at 6 burgers per minute- I think that outdoes the needs of even the most popular In-n-Out in San Francisco. Perry explains that Momentum recognizes that its machines will cause jobs to be eliminated when existing restaurants adopt the machine. I have lectured in the past about Employment Impact Assessments, and the lack thereof when automation changes the employment landscape at a company. But the solution offered by Momentum is tone-deaf in so many ways. They specifically offer discounted technical training to the former line cooks who were displaced. This seems like an idea born of startup-brainstorming, rather than ethnographically studying the needs of line cooks to understand just how pressured they are between low-paying jobs and debt on a day-to-day basis. Then there is the fact that Momentum plans to build its own restaurants. The line order cooks they will not hire are lost opportunities for jobs, they are not actual humans with pink slips in hand. In the end automation paves many paths to job loss and poverty, and I believe it is doing so more rapidly than it optimistically “unleashes job innovation.” Providing technical training is, obviously, a move to be applauded. But it is, in this case, a rhetorical move that does not offer any sort of structural solution to the basic problem: Momentum is spending millions of dollars to make machines that do the work of many employees for whom their paycheck is critical to quality of life.

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