Automation of burger flipping just might put 3.5 million Americans out of a job

Simple and repetitive – that is in basic terms the description of an entry-level job that is helping many students get through college. It is also the description of the perfect activity to closely examine – if you are in any capacity involved in the robotics or artificial intelligence development. Many jobs have already been made obsolete by technology, but more jobs than ever are threatened with the rapid onset of robotics. Out of all of them, burger-flipping is without a doubt near the top of that list. A San Francisco-based start up, Momentum Machines, is already working on it.
The company has designed a burger dispensing machine that is reportedly capable of cooking and delivering 360 freshly grilled, “gourmet-quality” burgers per hour, and even allows you to choose your meat blend of preference. Fancy a 1/3 bison patty? This machine has got you covered.

Image Source: Momentum Machines

Taking human resources out of the picture, Momentum Machines claims to be able to automatically produce high quality burgers at a fast food price point, and to get it exactly right 100% of the time. The machine is quick and sanitary, and it slices your toppings, grinds your meat and toasts your bun only moments after you place your order. Basically, it completely replaces multiple line cooks in a fast food restaurant. Plus, it never asks for a raise, it never gets tired, and it doesn’t make mistakes.
Try explaining that to the 3.5 million North American fast food workers who are already protesting against their $7.50 miniumum wage.
While many people have already expressed their concerns about robots putting them out of work, Momentum Machines had something else to say on the matter:

The issue of machines and job displacement has been around for centuries and economists generally accept that technology like ours actually causes an increase in employment. The three factors that contribute to this are 1. the company that makes the robots must hire new employees, 2. the restaurant that uses our robots can expand their frontiers of production which requires hiring more people, and 3. the general public saves money on the reduced cost of our burgers. This saved money can then be spent on the rest of the economy.

Certainly, there is logic to be found there. Automatic food dispensers show promise of crazy cost cutting. That could be pumped into better service, better ingredients, but also education and new jobs.  Let’s wait and see where that money ends up going before we get overly skeptical – or excited.