I get this kind of question all the time. Since I run a robotics company people come and ask me if I would take away their jobs. There is often a visceral fear of robotics and automation. I get it. Jobs are important and the foundation of our economy. However, people similarly feared about computers 30 years ago. In India banks went on constant strikes in the 1990s as the workers feared that there won’t be a desk work any more.
Now, coming back to the question of burgers:
Who buys the cars manufactured by robots? You.
Who drinks coffees made by machines? You.
Who reads the books printed by robots? You.
Who uses phones that are assembled by robots? You.
Who drinks soft drinks that are bottled by robots? You.
Who uses the search engine whose results are completely automated? You.
And you will eat the burger that is produced by robots while riding to the shop in a vehicle made by another robot. The signatures of robots are all around you.
Walk into any modern factory and a substantial portion of it is done by robots and automated machines. You have already been touched by robots for decades.
Elon Musk doesn’t make his cars by hand. He might talk concerned about AI and robotics, but this is how cars are made.
So robots can make cars, but if they make burgers it is a social threat?
Again, Bill Gates seems very concerned about automation. Did his Excel sheets and the formulae within not automate things resulting in job losses? Did not his operating systems and software lead to automation in various sectors? My grandfather and uncles built a successful printing press business that got eventually killed by advances in desktop printing technologies.
Why don’t these legends put money where their mouth is?
The upcoming robotics revolution is a natural extension of the automation revolution that software already brought us the previous 3 decades. It is a natural extension of the advancements in mechanical engineering brought in the previous 7 decades.
Like any technology change it will bring great benefits and great disruptions. Luddites have talked about job loss for centuries. But, what is missed is the increased quality of living that came in.
In the forseeable future, the burger flipping robots are not going to remove humans from everything. There will be new sectors created where humans will move to.
When it comes to a point that humans cannot do any job, then bring in the regulations – that impact all kinds of automation not just the burger flipping ones.
Automation has been going in agriculture for centuries and in industry for a many decades. But, we didn’t freak out then. Because the class systems ensured that we didn’t relate much with the factory worker. But, when it does more complex tasks people go crazy.
Each robotics company is only a part of the chain. They don’t do anything different from the automation companies of the previous decades. Every machine does something that a human could have done.
I’m not against regulations in my industry, but I’m troubled by the hypocrisy. The same guys whose companies automate stuff and run factories with fewer humans, want to erect barriers in newer industries. If you want to encourage human labour and discourage automation, do it across the board – in automobiles, software, financial markets, agriculture and engineering.
Think about this: if coffees can be made by machines [there are coffee machines in every office] and you use it without worrying about a barista, why should burgers made by machines scare you? Or for that matter other types of robots that will be soon entering the market?