Robots are showing up in restaurants, grocery stores, and even operating rooms. They are capable, productive, and they do not take sick days or need healthcare benefits. Are they coming to a job near you? Two-thirds of Americans believe that robots will replace humans in the workplace over the next 50 years. However, 80 percent of these individuals believe that their job will not be affected by automation. This episode of the Future of Work hosted by Broadsuite Media Group’s Shelly Kramer and joined by frequent guest, her business partner Eric Vidal, covers why it is time for the U.S. workforce to get ready for the rise of the robots.
Kramer and Vidal kick off the show with some data: Between 2000 and 2010, 87 percent of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost as factories embraced automation in a quest for efficiency, thus reducing the need for a large human workforce.
Let’s face it, we are a technology-driven society, and whether for business or personal use, we readily embrace things that provide instant gratification, save time, and make life easier. Robots? They can make life easier.
You might say that loving tech and using apps to pay bills, order lunch, and connect to work are not in the same league as automation and robotic replacements for humans in the workplace, but they actually are. Using technology and automated applications replaces interaction with humans who in previous decades were employed to help us by providing service—be it the bank teller, the waitress, or checkout clerk.
Where Are Robots Being Used?
Kramer and Vidal discuss the fact that robots and automation affect all industries. Healthcare uses robots to perform surgeries and procedures. Department stores employ touch screen kiosks to give customers the ability to search inventory and pay for purchases. Fast food leader, Wendy’s, recently deployed 1000 self-ordering stations at counters to take and fulfill customer orders accurately and efficiently, and burger rival McDonald’s is deploying robots as well. Pepper the Robot is employed in department stores, answering customer’s questions and providing feedback where needed. Robots and automation are everywhere.
Robots Equal Ease of Use and Bottom Line Impact
Equally as important, not only does automation make life easier for consumers, it gives companies significant savings. Wendy’s CEO, David Trim, estimates that the fast food chain’s investment in robots will pay for itself in just two years or less. That’s impressive.
If we are already working with and around robots and automation, why are people in denial about robots and automation coming to their workplaces? It is because most people put off thinking about what is not immediately impacting their lives—and apparently, automation does not yet feel urgent. Perhaps people will feel differently about this once they’re placing their orders at Wendy’s with a robot instead of a person.
Don’t Get Complacent—Get Re-Trained
It’s easy to be lulled into a state of complacency but, as Shelly and Eric discuss, the American workforce needs to be re-trained now to secure jobs in the future. Workers need to understand how robots and automation work, and how to work with these new tools. The fact is that machines learn, automate, and do many jobs faster and more efficiently than humans do. The situation is indeed urgent, as 20 percent of jobs in the U.S. still involve operating machinery—which means there is still a lot of opportunity left for automation.
Shelly and Eric discuss the fact that there are many benefits of automation in the workplace, although not all the benefits have been realized. For one thing, robots are pretty cool. They reduce the amount of physical labor required of their human counterparts, and can also translate to fewer hours at work, resulting in more free time. Fewer hours at work may give individuals the time to do what they have always dreamed about, potentially sparking an increase in entrepreneurs. Kramer makes some good points here on entrepreneurs and safety nets, but you’ll have to watch or listen for those gems.
Bottom line—workers who embrace automation are and will be more successful than those individuals who fight against it or ignore it. Business is very much about survival of the fittest—but it is not about being the biggest or the strongest to outlast the competition; it is about being the most capable of managing change.
Watch this episode of the Future of Work to find out if you are ready for the rise of the robots. Tune into the Future of Work talk on YouTube, and never miss an episode.
Shelly Kramer: Hey everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of Future of Work Talk. This is your host Shelly Kramer and the topic today that we are going to tackle is The Rise of the Robots and what’s happening with robotics, robots and what’s happening in the work place, what people think is happening, what the future of work might look like in that regard and I’m so excited to be joined by my business partner and frequent co-host and just best friend in the whole wide world, Eric Vidal. Eric, welcome.
Eric Vidal: Thank you Shelly. That’s a wonderful intro and knowing that I’m a friend, or best friend, is wonderful.
Shelly Kramer: Wasn’t that just so heartfelt? I tried really hard on that one. So anyway, all joking aside, Eric, we talk about this a lot and we were having a conversation before the taping of this episode and you laid out a stat that I thought was really interesting so why don’t we kick off this show with that little gem of information?
Eric Vidal: Yeah, so, I just read this the other day. Two-thirds of Americans believe that automation and robots will inevitably perform most of the work currently being done by human beings in the next 50 years. The irony is that 80% of that same group of people believe that their jobs will either definitely or probably still exist in the current form that it is today. They think that there is going to be this dramatic shift or dramatic change, just not to their jobs. Interesting perspective. I think that’s normal, too. A lot of people think that it will happen to somebody else but not me. I wanted to share that with you.
Shelly Kramer: I think that’s really interesting. Something that I was looking at as I was preparing for this show – which of course I do in great depth – between the year 2000 and 2010, 87% of manufacturing job losses stemmed from factories becoming more efficient. So, in a decade, almost 90% of the manufacturing jobs that were lost were not because factories failed or businesses failed or disappeared. Those jobs went away because factories became more efficient and technology has driven that. It’s especially true today. We are talking about robots but we are also talking about the internet of things and all of the things that the IoT brings to the world of manufacturing. I wrote an article the other day about robotics in healthcare and how that is changing healthcare in so many ways. So, I think that what is at the crux of this and I think that where there is a disconnect with people is that, you know, let’s think about the polar ice caps melting. That’s a big deal. But I think people’s “give-a-damn factor”, many people’s “give-a-damn factor” about things like this, in my example, are yeah, that’s happening. But they think it’s going to be in 200 years and we will all be dead so they don’t really care. It sounds kind of dumb but the reality of it is I think a lot of us think about things in that way. If it’s not something that has an immediately foreseeable impact on me I’m just not going to worry about it. I think that the danger there as it relates to robots in the workplace is that because technology is so rapidly transforming every part of our lives, our personal lives, or work lives, our work places, things just keep speeding up and just keep going faster. That is the way that technology changes and the way that devices change. You know, I was watching an episode of Friends with my kids the other day and they picked up a cordless phone, like the first-generation cordless phone. Do you remember when they were like a foot tall and they had a big thing on them? My kids were like – what the heck is that? Or you look at what early cell phones look like or whatever, but my point is that was actually was quite a while ago. But what we are seeing happening now with so much technology and the cost getting less and less expensive and innovation happening at a rapid pace, I think that in many instances people will be somewhat caught unaware.
Eric Vidal: It’s going to happen sooner rather than later, right?
Shelly Kramer: Yeah, absolutely. I was reading an article commenting about how Bill Gates made a lot of waves when he suggested that robots be taxed. There were people that agreed with that. It’s actually a surprising thing for the founder of Microsoft to say when Microsoft is making huge inroads in technology, IoT, robotics, all those things. There are many different schools of thought in relating to this. There are many people who think his idea is correct. When you create a society, and maybe it’s not robots are taxed, maybe what happens is we morph to a society where there’s a guaranteed income and that will enable people to perhaps lead more productive lives, more meaningful, more fulfilling lives. It will perhaps even allow them to be more entrepreneurial. What do you think about that? What do you think about that theory?
Eric Vidal: Well yeah, I think that it is inevitable. I think the challenge we have in the United States is we keep putting this off. It’s happening. Automation has been happening, especially the last 20 years. Now robotics and robots are happening right now and it’s going to continue to happen, but we as people, we as a society need to adapt, and start to train our society to take on those other jobs, right? We are not going to compete in the manufacturing process anymore. Almost 1/5 of the time spent in the US workplace involves performing physical activities or operating machinery. So, that’s a lot of opportunity to automate. 1/5? That’s a lot of opportunity to automate and so it’s going to happen. And it’s going to continue to happen but we need to prepare for it and I don’t think we have prepared for it as well as we could have. I’m being light when I say that. It’s a little more dramatic than that, actually.
Shelly Kramer: You know, to your point, routine, repetitive jobs are of course the first jobs to be replaced by robots. But I think also what we are not prepared for, especially for those of us that aren’t paying attention to artificial intelligence and machine learning, deep learning, and how all of those things can impact any profession, any vertical, any company, any industry. So, I think that there is a tendency for people to think – well, I’m not a factory worker so I don’t have to worry about this. I think that the advancement of robots in the workplace is not only going to impact those less skilled jobs, I think that if you do it and it’s predictable, you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be an accounting professional, I think that across the board if there is something that you do and it’s predictable, that machines can learn it and automate it and probably do it better. I think that is uncomfortable and unattractive for us to think about and so we don’t think about it.
Eric Vidal: Yeah. What are some industries that you are seeing some big changes? Think about the restaurant industry or even cafeterias. When I was in Europe or Asia I noticed you can just walk into places and put your change or your credit card in and you open it up and there you go. You have a warm sandwich. That’s been growing in those geographies as well as the U.S. Even at McDonalds in New York it’s a robot that greets you and then you type in what you want. You can actually order without even interfacing with a human being. What’s interesting to me about McDonalds is they haven’t released any data on that, probably because it is very efficient and they don’t want to call out that they saved X% amount of employees because they would probably get a bad rap for it. But the bottom line is businesses are looking to be more efficient and this is helping them.
Shelly Kramer: Well. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, go ahead.
Eric Vidal: No, that was my point.
Shelly Kramer: Well on that front I actually just wrote about this. Wendy’s has made a big splash lately because they are integrating robots into their highest volume restaurants and I think they are rolling out first in Ohio. I won’t be able to get the data correct, but I will link it as part of the recap notes for the show. But what was really interesting is that they believe that this is going to allow quicker and faster service. Right now, this has to happen to you, we human beings, we Americans, are so stinking lazy it’s crazy. So, you are taking the kids to soccer practice and they are starving so you pull up to Wendy’s and the line at the drive-thru is really long but you don’t care. You just sit in your car and burn gas until it gets to your turn, right? Or, you get frustrated because the line is so long and you park and you go in but they haven’t really staffed those front counters much because the business comes from the drive-thru.
Eric Vidal: Exactly!
Shelly Kramer: So you’ve got 1 person, if you are lucky, trying to wait on all the people that got frustrated and came inside and you are going – what the hell? I should have just stayed in my car. So, what Wendy’s is doing is putting these robots inside the restaurants so you can just walk in and place your order and bam, bam, bam. They are also betting big on mobile ordering. You know Panera does this. You can place your order online instead of getting there and saying – “Hi, I’m Shelly. I’m here to pick up a carry-out order.” All I have to do is walk in and pick up my order that is right there on the shelf. It’s not a robot situation but it’s efficient. I can’t remember his title, it might have been the CMO but I’m not sure who it was that was quoted from Wendy’s who said it’s all about efficiency for the customer and being attractive to the customer that is interested in moving through the process more quickly. But it was definitely about a cost savings and he predicted that the robots were going to completely pay for themselves in something ridiculous, like 2 years’ time. Okay? And as we train ourselves to place mobile orders at Panera because we don’t want to have to talk to people and we just want to do everything online and run in and be able to get it. Or we want to walk into Wendy’s and quickly order what we want from a robot. I walked into Target yesterday, I was actually there to pick up something that I had purchased online so of course I was already there so was some other shopping I needed to do and as I was walking in I noticed that they had expanded their self-check-out aisles. It used to be there was 1, maybe 2 and all of a sudden there were 6 self-check-out aisles. What I thought of immediately was there are fewer cashiers here. We are training ourselves as a society to be able to take care of ourselves using robots and self-service functionality, and then you add mobility to the mix which is making those tasks like picking something up from a store that you have ordered or picking up your lunches that you have ordered. So, it’s really interesting because we are factoring out interaction with other human beings in the name of efficiency and time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And then what retailers are doing, like brick and mortar retailers are doing is that they are using, and I saw this a lot when I was in Tokyo this winter, they are using robots in the retail situation. So, I can come in and I can say “Hi, where do I find ladies shoes, or I want this in blue, do you have it in blue in a size 6?” So, you can interact and engage with robots. There’s the novelty factor that customers think is cool and want to interact with them and so we are attracted to that. Sometimes getting the attention of a sales person, especially in a large department store, is like, exhausting.
Eric Vidal: You know what’s interesting? You brought up retail. Remember when I gave you the stats that 1/5 of the work that’s done in the workplace is predictable type of work? Well, on the other side there is unpredictable physical work. What was interesting in this report was retail was one that had a lower amount of unpredictable work. So, it’s very predictable. What you are saying could be a reality very soon. There is not that much unpredictable physical work in the retail space so, realistically, if you look at this report they would adapt very well to more robotic type implementations or something like that.
Shelly Kramer: I think that there are a lot of applications. We have talked about industrial situations and manufacturing. We’ve talked about restaurants. We’ve talked about retail, grocery. Asia is far, far ahead of us in terms of adopting robotics and mobile ordering, and simplification of processes and things like that. It’s really interesting to see how they have advanced on that front. I was having this discussion on Facebook the other day with friends about as robots become more of a thing and more jobs are displaced because of robots, does it become this utopian society? Do we get to have these more amazing lives where we’re not worried about going to work for 8 or 9 or 10 hours every day and nose to the grindstone? And if we are forced to put a solution in place, which I can’t even imagine in my wildest dreams, especially given our political climate today, anyone every agreeing to a universal base income. I mean, can you imagine that? We can’t even agree on healthcare, but politics aside, I’m not sure how we would get there. But say that you did have a guaranteed income. So, then people can theoretically lead more productive lives.
Eric Vidal: I disagree with that though, leading more productive lives. Because look at the mobile phone, look at the personal computers and laptops.
Shelly Kramer: All we did is just work more.
Eric Vidal: Exactly. All we did is just work more and now I can do more things. So, I don’t think in the short term that’s a reality but that’s my thought.
Shelly Kramer: There are a couple points I wanted to make and one is, this conversation that I was having with people was attached to meaning and some people find meaning through their work and if that work goes away how does that impact that? While there are a lot of people that get up every day and do things that they don’t love, it really made me think about my life and my career and what I get to do all day every day and I love everything about, as crazy as it is, I love what I do and the people I get to work with every day and clients that I get to apply my brain for, and I find great meaning in what I do for a living. There were many people who did not, likewise, find that meaning and that’s totally understandable. I get that. We are all coming from different places. But when you think about, again, going back to if there was in some way a mechanism for guaranteed income. So, every day when you get up you are already part way to whatever nut it is you need, right? However much money you need to survive, okay, so part of that is already taken care of. So then maybe you can spend more time gardening, or walking your dog or working out or creating art or whatever. But the other thing is perhaps it would lead to greater entrepreneurialism. And entrepreneurialism is inherently risk-filled. Okay, so bear with me, I’m almost done on this point. As I was researching this and as I was thinking about this after this conversation, I ran across what’s called The Peltzman Effect. A good example of that is for instance, seatbelts and the more safety features we integrate into things. Okay? So, Eric, you and I both grew up in a time where seatbelts weren’t the norm. You know? I mean, when I was in my 20’s and had 2 little kids I swear to God that sat in the front seat of my Honda Accord with one seat belt across the two of them and nobody looked at me like I was doing anything wrong. It’s just what you did. You know? It wasn’t a big deal. I had 2 kids and 1 car seat and the minute somebody could sit on their own they were out of that car seat. Mother of the Year here. By the way, they survived just fine. But the whole point of The Peltzman Effect is when we added more safety features like seatbelts into the mix that did not necessarily mean there were fewer accidents. In fact, what happens, the more safety features that you build in is the more risk people take as a result. When you think about that from an entrepreneurial standpoint and when you think about building a safety net in like a baseline guaranteed salary it could perhaps mean that people would be more apt to jump into that entrepreneurial realm because you can take more risk. You have a safety feature, just like you have a seatbelt and do stupid things and drive dangerously or use your phone while driving. I thought that was kind of interesting and worth considering. What do you think?
Eric Vidal: Well, I never saw that study but it makes sense. It does make sense.
Shelly Kramer: Well, I think that, you know, when it comes to robots they are absolutely inevitable. They are already here. You and I talk about this all the time, the future of work is now, it’s happening now and we are living it now. People that own companies stand to do well with the integration of robots. People that know how to tell robots what to do stand to do well. I think that there are things that people are inherently better prepared to do. For instance, when you think about things in our society that are under served, okay? Taking care of elderly. Okay? I think that people probably would agree that we are not overflowing in terms of our capabilities to really care well for our elderly.
Eric Vidal: Yeah, in the report that I saw Shelly, it mentioned people services, parts of healthcare, like that. Obviously, recreation, entertainment, arts. I read something and it was like a year ago and it highlighted what you said. That’s not going to be automated. There is this human touch that is needed.
Shelly Kramer: Well, and caring for children in the early years. Teaching children. Those kinds of things I think humans inherently bring something that can’t really be replaced by a robot.
Eric Vidal: Here’s one. I shared this on Facebook the other day and I know you know what I mean because you commented on it or liked it. They talked about printing and high end printing automation for home building. Do you remember that video?
Shelly Kramer: I do.
Eric Vidal: I don’t remember who it was from. It was Mashable maybe? It was this automation of concrete flowing and it was showing this house being built and the layers. But one thing at the end, I don’t know if you caught this, and so I did a little research and I was checking in on this, but it wasn’t fully automated. At the end, you see there were people who put on the windows. There were people who were doing the trim work, some of the hand craftsman work. Did you catch that at the very end? There was just a second here and a second there. So, I checked in on this research, this report that I was looking at the other day and confirming that yes, construction can be automated, but only to a point because there is a lot of unpredictable physical work also. There is a lot of certain hand craftsmanship that you can’t automate. So, there is silver lining out there and it’s about being skilled. Skilled labor and certain types of education and certain types of training and we just need to be better trained and educated and we need to be able to adapt. We need to be able to adapt just like you adapted and started using better seatbelts and better car seats. You adapted. And I know your younger daughters were not sitting like that because you adapted.
Shelly Kramer: They were not.
Eric Vidal: Your first 2 daughters and not the latter 2 right? And so I think we as people and we as companies just need to adapt. That’s a whole other show that I would love to do with you. It’s getting employees and getting our U.S. workforce to adapt to what’s coming or what’s already here to a point.
Shelly Kramer: I agree. I use this line a lot when I speak and the people think what Charles Darwin is famous for saying is the line about survival of the fittest. What his saying really was all about was those who survivor are the ones who are most capable of adapting. So, it’s not the strongest, it’s not the smartest, it’s those of us who are able to adapt. If you look at our world from the time of the caveman on, it’s been being able to change and adapt to all the different things that have come along, the advancements that have happened, the challenges that have happened. I think this fourth industrial revolution that is upon us is another opportunity to adapt and learn and embrace change because we don’t really have much choice.
Eric Vidal: You are absolutely right and the story you told about the Wendy’s drive-thru was fantastic. I don’t know if you saw but I was glowing. I’m in the middle of adapting and learning right now what’s faster. There’s a Starbucks by my house and there’s a Wendy’s by my house and I go to both of them when I’m playing “bad dad” and getting dinner quickly and there’s maybe 6 or 7 cars and I’m like – do I really want to stay in line and at Starbucks when there’s like 8 or 9 or 10 and I’m the smart guy. The “smart guy”, right? I park and go in. But, like you said, they have 5 staff members catering to the drive-thru and they have this 1 person kind of catering to the in-store crowd and I’m trying to time it and wondering if this was a bad move.
Shelly Kramer: A bad move? There goes that car I was sitting behind. There goes that car. I would be leaving next but I’m waiting here.
Eric Vidal: So, I think I figured it out with the Starbucks but with the Wendy’s I’m not there yet. But I’m learning and I will circle back and let you know, okay?
Shelly Kramer: That’s awesome. Well, I think our time is up for today. Eric, thanks so much for hanging out with me today. It’s always a pleasure and I can promise you that if you are interested in robots and how they will change, how they are changing, how they will change the workplace as we know it I can promise you we will be talking about that again and again so come back and join us.