Ask for a roast beef sandwich from an Arby’s drive thru east of Los Angeles. You may be speaking to Tori, an artificially intelligent voice assistant. She will take your order and forward it to the line cooks.
Amir Siddiqi says, “It doesn’t make you sick.” His family installed the AI voice at Arby’s franchise in Ontario, California this year. “It doesn’t get corona. It is reliable and it is very reliable.
The 2020 pandemic did not only threaten Americans’ health, but also posed a threat to their jobs in the long-term. Companies are automating service sector jobs that economists considered safe because they don’t believe machines can provide the human contact that customers require.
The past experience shows that these automation waves ultimately create more jobs than they eliminate, but they also significantly reduce the number of skilled jobs that low-income workers rely on. The U.S. could experience severe growing pains as a result.
Siddiqi wouldn’t have invested in new technology if it wasn’t for the pandemic. He says that it has gone well: “Basically there are fewer people needed, but those people are now working in kitchen and other areas.”
Johannes Moenius, an economist from the University of Redlands, believes that automation could redeploy workers to better, more interesting jobs if they have the right technical training. He says that although automation is happening right now, it’s not happening fast enough.
Worse, a whole class of service jobs that were created when manufacturing started to use more automation could now be at risk. He says that robots have escaped from the manufacturing sector and moved into the larger service sector. “I considered contact jobs to be safe. “I was totally taken by surprise.”
Robot technology has made it possible for machines to perform many tasks previously performed by humans, such as transporting hospital linens, sorting goods, and tossing pizza dough. Their adoption was accelerated by the pandemic. Robots can’t spread diseases or get sick. They also don’t ask for time off to deal with unexpected childcare emergencies.
The International Monetary Fund’s economists found that previous pandemics had encouraged companies to invest in machinery in ways that would increase productivity, but also reduce the number of low-skilled jobs. In a January paper, they concluded that their concerns regarding the rise of robots in the COVID-19 epidemic seem to be justified.
These consequences could be most severe for the women with less education who are more likely to hold low- or mid-wage positions that are most vulnerable to automation and viral infections. These jobs include administrative assistants, sales clerks, cashiers, and aides at hospitals, as well as those who care for the elderly and sick.