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Would You Tip Your Robot Waiter?

The next time you buy fast food, you may be served by a robot. What is the social protocol: do you leave a tip? How would you do so? Or should you just make a donation to charity? It seems absurd to tip a robot. Maybe restaurants would charge more since people would not have to lay out money for a tip. Then again, maybe they would charge less because the robot wouldn’t need benefits.

Would the advocates of raising the minimum-wage take on the cause of our fabricated fellow workers?

These are some of the fascinating dimensions of the growth of robots in our workforce. Would people buy life insurance from a robot salesman? I have news for you: going online and applying for coverage from a website, without any interaction with a real broker, is a step in that direction.

Financial advisor Mike Shedlock provides an illuminating analysis of the impact of robots on human employment. Here is one interesting point-counterpoint he brings out:

Point – Counterpoint:  A comment to the infographic by Cathal Haughian caught my eye. Haughian commented “Those countries that have high minimum wages automate first. I had a tour of Mc Donald’s newest Chicken factory, in China, this year. It employed a third of the workforce of a similar plant in the US. It’s fully automated. Slaughters 5 million chickens per day. Robots the size of a two story house. Amazing. The Robot revolution will break the back of our economic system by 2020, I’d bet.”

Technology Review editor replied “No it’s actually more ambiguous than that, obviously: sometimes robots create entirely new jobs in new industries; sometimes they allow reallocation of labor to more productive uses; sometimes they sustain industries that would otherwise disappear. The truth is that no one knows whether we are witnessing a long-term restructuring of employment (in the sense that “full employment” may be a lower percentage of the population in industrialized nations) – and anyone who tells you otherwise is an ideologue on one side or another of this debate.”

Check out Mike’s article – it’s a short read. In which direction do you think we are heading?