Despite Donald Trump’s promise to create more jobs if elected president, his pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder, the CEO of the fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, is keen on the idea of replacing food service workers with robots.
Puzder told business insider earlier this year that unlike human workers, robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” And while the unsettling contradiction calls into question other campaign promises Trump made in the run-up to Election Day, the truth is that technology that replaces food service workers is already here.
Sushi restaurants have been using machines to roll rice in nori for years, an otherwise monotonous and time-consuming task. The company Suzuka has robots that help assemble thousands of pieces of sushi an hour. In Mountain View, Calif, the startup Zume is trying to disrupt pizza with a pie-making machine.
In Shanghai, there’s a robot that makes ramen, and some cruise ships now mix drinks with bartending machines. More directly to the heart of American fast-food cuisine, Momentum Machines, a restaurant concept with a robot that can supposedly flip hundreds of burgers an hour, applied for a building permit in San Francisco and started listing job openings this January, reported Eater.
Then there’s Eatsa, the automat restaurant where no human interaction is necessary, which has locations popping up across California. Delivery is on track to be automated, too. Starship’s ground robot delivered takeout in London earlier this month, and the company has plans to roll out in Silicon Valley soon.
There’s also Marble and Dispatch; the later received $2 million in seed funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz earlier this year. Both Alphabet and Amazon hope to one day deliver by drone, too. Robots replacing fast-food workers won’t happen overnight. The more likely scenario is one machine at a time.
First, it’ll be self-serve ordering. Then serving. Delivery might become common in a few years, with ground-based robots rolling out long before drones. And more cooking robots won’t be too far behind. This process might happen in a more thoughtful, measured way if a public servant with a history of putting the needs of working Americans first were appointed labor secretary. But it would happen regardless.