The use of robots is rising, artificial intelligence is becoming more intelligent, and humans are becoming less essential for certain job functions. Delivery robots for restaurants are a reality now, and restaurants from China to Pakistan have started using robots as servers.
Does this mean human servers in restaurants will no longer be needed? Should people who work in the service industry start looking for new ways to remain employed?
History Repeats Itself
The concern that machines will replace human workers is not a modern invention. English inventor William Lee once went to Queen Elizabeth I to seek a patent for a machine to automate knitting. The Queen thought this contraption was going to take away jobs from poor people, women in particular. Protestors in Britain's Luddite Movement, nearly 200 years after the rejection of the patent by the Queen, destroyed as many of Lee’s machines as they could.
Skip ahead another century and this same machine resulted in job creation. "Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth" by James Bessen describes that by the end of the 19th century, there were four times as many factory weavers than there were in 1830 just because of Lee’s invention.
Fast forward to today: The internet's largest retailer, Amazon, has increased its use of robots, and has increased its workforce as well. Within the last three years, the company has gone from using 1,400 robots in its warehouses to more than 40,000. Over the same time period, the employee base grew. The company expects to exceed 500,000 employees this year, mostly through hiring and not acquisition.
Today, self-order kiosks are becoming more prevalent and McDonald's plans on using them in 14,000 stores in the United States alone. Momentum Machines has designed a robot that can make more than 350 burgers in 60 minutes. There are now bots that can prepare a pizza from start to finish.
But technological change is rarely seamless. Quinoa bowl restaurant Eatsa made its launch two years ago and has used kiosks instead of traditional cashiers since Day 1. It may have expanded too quickly though, as Eatsa recently needed to close a large number of locations. (On the human scoreboard though, it should be noted that Eatsa currently has a a number of job openings, mostly for engineers.)
Despite the rising use of robots and AI, the need for stellar customer service and a personalized approach to business remains. When a brand can sink or swim based on the Twitter accounts of its customers -- happy and unhappy ones alike -- the businesses that can emphasize their customer service will be the ones that thrive. Using AI intelligently for efficiency, and always remembering that the customers will always be human, is the modern challenge.