By Hernan Prados
Walking to a store anywhere in America you will notice that once you pick up what you desired to take home, someone is at the other end of the counter helping you out with checkout. Whether is a grocery store, a pharmacy, a fast food chain etc. that person is getting paid to perform that activity. These cashiers, servers or employees represent a vast majority of the workforce in this country. However, these particular types of jobs are at a high risk of being taken over by a next generation of robots. These robots allow corporations to reduce cost, reduce their number of employees and improve their bottom line. It is estimated that as many as 7.5 million jobs are at risk of being replaced by robots according to a study from a financial services firm, Cornerstone Capital Group. Companies such as McDonalds and Wendy’s have started to replace servers at their counters with touch-screen computers. On these computers customers can place their order and have it served exactly as they wish without any human interaction in between.
Other companies like Amazon have revolutionized the grocery store business, not only by online shopping, but by opening stores where there are no humans. At these stores, Amazon GO, it is as simple as logging into your Amazon account, picking up whatever you need from the shelf and it is automatically registered in your online cart and charged to your card on file. No lines, no waits, no humans. Obviously, these advances take out of the equation all the shelf stokers, all the cashiers and the like since robots are doing these jobs. It has been estimated by the National Bureau of Economic Research that the number of robots in the workforce will quadruple by 2025. This means that more likely than not, those 7.5 million people will find themselves without a job in the next decade.
The solution one might say is, not to adopt the robots or resist these technological advances, but it is not as simple as it sounds. There are robots that actually do help, robots used in medicine to help save lives and robots that allow people with a disability to recoup some of the mobility lost due to their condition. It is not as simple as discerning which robots eliminate jobs from the ones that help create them. The reality is that corporations will start removing employees from their payrolls in favor of robots that do not take maternity leave or call in sick on Mondays. From a financial point of view, to these corporations making the change is favorable. Corporations do not have to pay taxes on the machines, no health insurance plan for them and no risk of employment disputes since the robots cannot sue the company for discrimination or wrongful termination.
People in the artificial intelligence industry such as Bill Gates have proposed regulations for robot “employees” and measures such as taxing the use of robots to make human employees more competitive in the industry. Another big factor to consider is that due to the situation that America is living right now, controversies in immigration, and factories leaving the country for more profitable “cheap labor” markets. Robots could be a great solution to incentivize corporations to stay on U.S. soil but at the expense of hiring robots and keeping only upper management.
The reality for blue-collar workers in America is that America is primarily a nation that has moved from the industrial revolution to the information and services revolution. This shift made America less of a factory and more of a services provider nation with all the effects and consequences that follow. Factories are replacing assembly line workers, welders, painters and packaging workers for more machines. The company stays in America, but the American workers are not producing the American made products.
Another important factor to consider is that robots do not have to have a legal status in order to produce. There has been a push by government agencies to control migrant workers especially in the farming industry. The current administration in the past months has revoked workers visas due to stringent regulations. The main reason to do so is to favor American workers over foreign workers, however American workers do need protection not only from migrant workers but from those machines that can do their job for less. These regulations affected the industry severely due to the lack of workforce to meet production demands.
It seems that the problems with robots affects all ideologies and people in all social-economic backgrounds. No matter where you are, eventually you are going to be affected by these technological advances. Each group is going to take a different approach depending on what is their desired outcome at the moment. If you are a retail employee you are going to push back implementation of robots, if you own a small company and you can save money by not having employees, you are going to be in favor of robots. If you are a CEO of a major corporation you are going to push for more robots and less employees to improve you bottom line. If you are a consumer and prices for goods are going down due to the reduced cost of producing them, you are going to be in favor of robots.
Without a doubt the debate on minimum wage has intensified the robot-adoption by corporations, for the reasons explained above. Nevertheless, what people seem to forget is that these robots need to be serviced, need to be shipped and need to be programmed. All of those are functions that to this day and the near future need a human hand. The problem seems to be, at least on the short run, hitting the workers at the bottom of the pyramid. However, there is going to be a demand in the market for people skilled enough to perform these duties such as engineers, mechanics and programmers.
The aforementioned paragraph teaches us a valuable lesson, what America needs is more skilled laborers. Those with the most skills, run less of a risk of being replaced by a robot. As always, education is among the solutions to solve existing problems. With a more educated and skilled society and more programs to educate workers, less impact will society suffer from the adoption of new technology. The solution does not lie in isolation from technological advances but embracing the future with open arms allowing workers at the bottom of the pyramid to acquire new skills for the jobs of tomorrow.
If you want to know if your job is at risk now or in the near future visit https://www.replacedbyrobot.info/search? where you can input your current job or the one you would like to have, and it will give you an estimate in percentage of how likely it is to be replaced by a robot.
Student Bio: Hernan Prados is a second-year student at Suffolk University Law School. He is currently a staff member on the Journal of High Technology Law. Hernan is Originally from Spain and he received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Suffolk University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.