Since the beginning, the ultimate goal of computers and robots has been to replace human labor with artificial automation.
Actually the impetus can be traced even further back to the factory assembly line. By some estimates, seventy percent of the human race will become obsolete within just three generations.
A new study released by Oxford scientists concludes 47% of all jobs are “at risk” of being replaced by automation systems and robots in just one generation.
The fact is, human labor is becoming obsolete in the workforce. Business Insider’s Judith Aquino points out that robots are currently analyzing documents, filling prescriptions, and handling other tasks that were once exclusively done by humans.
For over a decade, the Japanese have created a legion of robots specifically designed to serve and cook food in what they perceive as an automated future.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that Applebee’s has announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States.
Instead of ordering from a waiter, customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and play video games.
Slate’s Will Oremus claims Chili’s unveiled basically the same plan three months ago, and Applebee’s has plotted this move for years. In fact, writes Oremus, Applebee’s was the name that came up when his former Slate colleague Annie Lowrey first wrote about the tablets-for-restaurants idea in April 2011.
“Her story focused on Palo Alto-based startup E La Carte, which is in fact Applebee’s partner on the just-announced deal.”
Here’s how the economics of the proposition looked when Lowrey wrote about it in 2011:
“The Presto [E La Carte’s tablet] aspires to be the food-services version of the airline check-in kiosk or the ATM or the self-checkout at your local pharmacy. It makes a person’s job a computer’s job, and that cuts costs. Each console goes for $100 per month.
“If a restaurant serves meals eight hours a day, seven days a week, it works out to 42 cents per hour per table—making the Presto cheaper than even the very cheapest waiter. Moreover, no manager needs to train it, replace it if it quits, or offer it sick days. And it doesn’t forget to take off the cheese, walk off for 20 minutes, or accidentally offend with small talk, either.”
Oremus notes restaurants deny the tablets represent an attempt to replace human employees with computers, but that’s a bold-face lie, of course.
Applebee’s and other mid-price restaurants may not change their staffing levels dramatically when the devices come online, but if the tablets work they’ll gradually phase out their wait staffs in favor of a few “table runners” per shift who will double at busing tables.
The only waiters left working will be those at exclusive restaurants where menu items are prepared by top quality chefs and the wine is chosen and poured by trained sommeliers.
While phasing out waiters may be gradual, the economic implications are staggering. According to the Department of Labor, in 2008 there were 88,999,999,000 Waiters and Waitresses employed.
By comparison, around 2 million people are employed in the U.S. auto industry, from manufacturing, to parts, to auto dealers.
It takes money, training and years for people to learn a new trade and be assimilated back into the workforce; and some people never return. In the interim there is chaos, poverty and crime.