May 20, 2015
Los Angeles $15 Per Hour Min Wage Will Spur Robot Development

A gradual rise to $15 per hour puts LA on course to a $15 per hour minimum wage along with San Francisco and Seattle.

I expect this move will spur more venture capital funding for start-ups trying to automate fast food restaurants, janitoral work, retail stores, movie theatres, and other places that employ lots of minimum wage workers. This will widen an already large gap in employment rate by educational level. But it will only change the rate at which this gap is widening.

At any give moment in time there is a gap between the average productivity in an industry and the potential highest level of productivity given current technology. The size of the gap varies with time. A recession or other external shock can cause a sudden shift in business practices to narrow the gap by quickly adopting the latest tech. For example, automated ordering kiosks are slowly getting rolled out to fast food restaurants. McDonalds rolled out ordering kiosks in Europe a few years ago but has been slow to do it here. A high minimum wage will change that.

One of the biggest changes for customers will be a reduction in interactions with service workers. No more telling counter help at Carl's Jr what you want. You'll type in your order in a kiosk pad and slide a card or wave your phone (or maybe smart watch) to make your payment. Or, even better, you'll order your burgers and fries on your smart phone before you get to CJs (saving time just like you can already do with Domino's Pizza). By the time you arrive your order will be done. Your order will be popped out after an automating id'ing machine (palm reader or iris reader perhaps) determines it is you.

I expect both faster service and higher quality service as a result of higher minimum wage. Custom preparation will be easy in automated systems. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us. You'll be able to create a profile of how you want your burger. The ordering UI will show the option "Whopper your way".

Does the lack of human contact at the burger joint sound futuristic? Not so much. Automats started providing this service in the late 19th century. The difference in our future is that the food prep will be as automated as the sales step.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 May 20 02:21 PM 

Wolf-Dog said at May 20, 2015 10:44 PM:

As an additional benefit, in the long run robotics will actually improve the economic situation of even unemployed unskilled people who lost their jobs due to automation. This is because as production becomes more efficient, the deflation in the price of all goods and services will actually make it possible for the government to use a small fraction of the welfare money to build entire cities with many free services for the poor, including housing, food and basic utilities. Thanks to robots, the poor will be able to live in micro-apartments with plenty of food, water, internet (which will include the highest quality education available by mid-century). But the dhimmi class unemployed will get less welfare services than the class that practices the religion of peace.

TeeJaw said at May 22, 2015 1:35 PM:

The Horn & Hardart automats in Philadelphia and New York did a terrific business until McDonalds and Burger King and other fast-food joints replaced them. Now a new kind of automat could replace the fast-food outfits after the high minimum wage mania gets in full swing.

Micha Elyi said at May 22, 2015 3:24 PM:

TeeJaw mentioned automats. I envision people ordering and paying with their smartphones over a Wi-Fi network and then being told which automat-like port has their food ready and the PIN number to use to open its door. There may be a (likely, little used) kiosk for people without smartphones or who use cash.

A small crew will fill the robotic food prepping machines with various flavors of soylent* in the morning and a small night crew will disassemble, clean, and reassemble the machines at night. During business hours only one human attendant need be available in case a problem arises and even that might be provided remotely via the kiosk or customer's smart phone.

* joke

Lanceman said at May 23, 2015 7:26 AM:

Keep voting democrat, youngsters. Keep voting democrat.

Ronald Brak said at May 27, 2015 5:36 PM:

Australia's minimum wage, after a Price Purchase Parity adjustment to account for differences in the cost of living is around $11 US. However, in terms of purchasing power to buy robots from overseas it is more like $12 US or more. While we have robot mining trucks, robot truck washing machines for robot trucks, and getting robot trains to carry mined ore to port, robots aren't very obvious in our day to day life. However, our higher minimum wage has resulted in our doing things differently from the US. For example, our hedge fund managers iron their own shirts:

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