The coming robot rights movement and the minimum wage

posted at 3:31 pm on August 10, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

Say, do you remember when Seattle voted to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour and we only half jokingly suggested that robots might take over some of those jobs? I’m not going to claim that McDonald’s reads Hot Air, but they seem to be taking the suggestion to heart, as reported by Kemberlee Kaye at Legal Insurrection.

McDonald’s employees who picketed for a better living wage (whatever that means) may come to regret that decision. According to a Redditor, a McDonald’s in Illinois replaced their cashiers with machines. The machines appear to be the cousins of the ones found in grocery stores, big box stores, and CVS that allow customers to complete transactions.

How cost effective is replacing an organic employee with a mechanized one? According to an economic blog, and unsurprisingly, the machines likely come out on top in terms of pricing:

For a location open 24 hours: The cost of human cashiers, not counting benefits, $15/hour * 24 hours * 365 days/year = $131,400

For a location open 6AM to Midnight: $15/hour * 18 hours * 365 = $98,550.

For the machine to be cost effective, all it needs to do is cost less than $100,000 a year to buy and maintain.

Who could’ve possibly seen this coming? Forbes. They predicted this exact scenario last July.

Yes, as the Forbes article makes clear, it didn’t exactly require a rocket surgeon to predict that if you drove the labor costs up too far in an unltracompetitive market such as the fast food industry, automation would begin to look too tempting to ignore. You’re going to make us pay the guy at the fry machine 15 bucks and hour? Well… we decided to pass on that and pay a robot nothing instead.

Of course, as Legal Insurrection points out, this may provide new employment opportunities for trial lawyers.

Prof. Reynolds notes that Robot makers must be loving the recent NLRB ruling, as well, which held McDonald’s parent corporation liable for franchisee employment practices. Can a kiosk file an employment grievance?

Robots may not be interested in bringing a lawsuit on their own, but they can no doubt find some lawyers willing to do it for them. They don’t really need time off, though, so I suppose they might sue for higher quality motor oil or renewable energy wall outlets. Those aren’t very good suggestions, I realize, but I’m sure the Southern Poverty Law Center will be able to come up with something better.


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A robot for every home….

$15/hour….

Cool…

Commercials with flying hippies robots to follow….

Electrongod on August 10, 2014 at 3:35 PM

So is the IRS destroying hard drives to get rid of email pretty much the same as the mob murdering a witness so he can’t testify?

malclave on August 10, 2014 at 3:41 PM

A robot for every home….

$15/hour….

Cool…

Commercials with flying hippies robots to follow….

Electrongod on August 10, 2014 at 3:35 PM

Something to roll their doob, stick it in their mouth, and light it so they don’t have to waste muscle movement.

itsspideyman on August 10, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Hello? I’m getting friggin calls from wannabe employers on Sundays now. I’ve been working robotics since 2006 and I’m constantly being approached by robotic manufactures to come work for them. The industry has been heating up for some time but it’s getting really intense now.

My latest offer was 20 minutes ago from a French robotics maker wanting to hire me to install and service plastic sorting machinery at recycling plants worldwide. The low skilled high paid worker is going extinct.

HotAirian on August 10, 2014 at 3:44 PM

Electrongod on August 10, 2014 at 3:35 PM

i have two for cleaning. i have become a big fan of iRobot

jlw on August 10, 2014 at 3:45 PM

“Biting the hand that feeds you” seems like a fine response to those that want $15.00 an hour to be a professional French Fryer.

Sabercat2 on August 10, 2014 at 3:46 PM

Good start, but first I’d like to see Robo-Border Patrol …

darwin on August 10, 2014 at 3:48 PM

How about Robo-Congressman? It will be automatically programmed to vote based on the wishes of it’s constituents and adhere to the Constitution.

darwin on August 10, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Good start, but first I’d like to see Robo-Border Patrol …

Me too, either T800 or T1000 preferably.

Severian on August 10, 2014 at 3:56 PM

This is really gonna drive down the wage scale for illegal immigrant slaves housekeepers and gardeners in Marin county…

jbspry on August 10, 2014 at 4:14 PM

How about Robo-Congressman? It will be automatically programmed to vote based on the wishes of it’s constituents and adhere to the Constitution.

darwin on August 10, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Sachiko on August 10, 2014 at 4:17 PM

How about Robo-Congressman? It will be automatically programmed to vote based on the wishes of it’s constituents and adhere to the Constitution.

darwin on August 10, 2014 at 3:55 PM

I just had a really amusing mental image of one of them chasing Nancy Pelosi down one of the hallways at the Capitol waving a great big gavel in it’s mechanical claws.

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Would someone explain to me of how it is that the NLRB is able to make ANY decisions, since the appointments made by Obama were done illegitimately?

disa on August 10, 2014 at 4:27 PM

The only drawback I see is any employer going robot with staff is they’ll have to buy at least one with a bad attitude. You know- a Bender. “Bite my shiny metal as$!!”

I just had a really amusing mental image of one of them chasing Nancy Pelosi down one of the hallways at the Capitol waving a great big gavel in it’s mechanical claws.

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Even funnier if you imagine that as “The Jetsons” Rosie.

BillH on August 10, 2014 at 4:28 PM

Robots are cool and all and I applaud their attempts at doing an end run around government stupidity but this all becomes self-defeating.

You can’t have a populace of just highly skilled people. Statistically and biologically speaking it’s impossible for everyone to be to do a high-end job. Heck the very definition of it being a “high end” job infers there’s an opposite side to it. Where are the non-skilled people going to work?

Minimum wage aside, what happens when you get “robot wages” down to $25,000/year? (roughly $4/hour based upon the above numbers) What do people with just a common-core approved high school degree (or liberal arts degree at State U) do then?

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:29 PM

This is really gonna drive down the wage scale for illegal immigrant slaves housekeepers and gardeners in Marin county…

jbspry on August 10, 2014 at 4:14 PM

How long before a landscape service has robots that can tend your yard by GPS location? Mow this area, trim along this line, blow this area off…

I’d think this area has massive implications for farming, too. Imagine a line of harvesting combines operated by GPS enabled robots and served by robotic loading trucks. A very few people could farm thousands and thousands of acres.

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Even funnier if you imagine that as “The Jetsons” Rosie.

BillH on August 10, 2014 at 4:28 PM

Heh… on the astro-treadmill…

“Harry! Harry! Stop this crazy thing!”

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Minimum wage aside, what happens when you get “robot wages” down to $25,000/year? (roughly $4/hour based upon the above numbers) What do people with just a common-core approved high school degree (or liberal arts degree at State U) do then?

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:29 PM

Flee across the southern border?

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:33 PM

rocket surgeon

Rocket surgeon???

albill on August 10, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Minimum wage aside, what happens when you get “robot wages” down to $25,000/year? (roughly $4/hour based upon the above numbers) What do people with just a common-core approved high school degree (or liberal arts degree at State U) do then?

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:29 PM

Actually, I foresee a huge need for low-cost, robotically-farmed weed and an endless supply of Road Runner Cartoons.

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Minimum wage paid in machine oil

Would robots have to file a “10W 30″ with the IRS?

JetBoy on August 10, 2014 at 4:44 PM

The minimum wage should $0/hr. The entire notion of a ‘minimum’ wage is totally nonsensical and any real conservative should reject it and shun those that support it.

Repeal the minimum wage and employment would skyrocket. Unemployment would be <3%. Singapore has abolished the minimum wage and their economy is booming.

nazo311 on August 10, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Actually, I foresee a huge need for low-cost, robotically-farmed weed and an endless supply of Road Runner Cartoons.

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Y’know that’s not a bad idea…

Although maybe that’s where it ultimately ends up when you roboticize labor. Capitalism suddenly becomes classist because there’s an entry barrier to the skilled class (to wit you NEED a skill which requires some form of education/traininng). Likewise, this isn’t socialism either because the unskilled labor class can’t contribute to society but still need basic goods like food and housing which will require more “social” systems requiring more robots that just further enforce that the unskilled class should just sit on their butts more.

If anything this is the Wall-E world where we all become indentured consumers so government can maintain the system.
(Disclaimer, I’m a free market capitalist and individualist. I’m just playing out a scenario in my head)

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:51 PM

That was McDonald’s innovation center where they test out technologies.

Nothing new, they’ve had those cashiers for years.

p0s3r on August 10, 2014 at 4:52 PM

Finally. McDonald’s catches up to WaWa.

Galtian on August 10, 2014 at 4:54 PM

I was making kiosks for fast food restaurants back in the 90′s. Never caught on…ahead of my time I guess.

tlynch001 on August 10, 2014 at 4:54 PM

How soon before President Obama declares that replacing people with robots is unpatriotic?

JoeHanson on August 10, 2014 at 5:00 PM

slickwillie2001 on August 10, 2014 at 4:55 PM

Fascinating stuff…

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 5:03 PM

Minimum wage aside, what happens when you get “robot wages” down to $25,000/year? (roughly $4/hour based upon the above numbers) What do people with just a common-core approved high school degree (or liberal arts degree at State U) do then?

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:29 PM

Let the low-fo voter who voted a 15$ per hour minimum wage
figure that out for themselves .

Lucano on August 10, 2014 at 5:03 PM

It’s time to start learning how to make and fix robots.

Chaz706 on August 10, 2014 at 5:21 PM

For a location open 24 hours: The cost of human cashiers, not counting benefits, $15/hour * 24 hours * 365 days/year = $131,400

That number doesn’t include payroll taxes, unemployment insurance and other labor costs. The true cost is at least $20.00 per hour, or $175,200 per year.

RadClown on August 10, 2014 at 5:35 PM

This is why I support a high minimum wage. No minimum wage would delay capital investment (and therefore R&D) in things like robotics as the differential between low marginal product employees and investment into world class automation would persist to be too large for years to come.

No I don’t work in tech/robotics so I’m not saying this so I can get more business.

Reducing the wage/capex differential (or flipping it on its head) will help drive innovation and cut years off progress in widespread automation/algorithm/robotic design and implementation.

uatu1878 on August 10, 2014 at 5:42 PM

It’a already in CA. After the last grocery strike, the stores put in automated checkout, where 4 lanes are managed by one cashier.

Three jobs down the drain thanks to the unions.

PattyJ on August 10, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Would someone explain to me of how it is that the NLRB is able to make ANY decisions, since the appointments made by Obama were done illegitimately?

disa on August 10, 2014 at 4:27 PM

In spite of the court agreeing that the NLRB appointments were illegitimate, the Senate voted to reconfirm the same scuzbuckets Obama tried to slide in illegally.

Talk about tucking in your tail, rolling over on your back and urinating on yourself…

The Senate once thought highly of their own power and importance- no longer, I assume.

Dolce Far Niente on August 10, 2014 at 6:02 PM

$15 per hour is about $30,000 per year, which is about the salary of newly graduated liberal arts major, the kind who are sitting at home, unemployed. If you were forced to pay $30K for a worker, would you hire the college graduate or the uneducated, unskilled high school graduate? The min wage overprices unskilled labor, in effect making it impossible to get hired for the only jobs they are qualified to do.

Tantor on August 10, 2014 at 6:19 PM

The vast majority of all marriages already have a robot – a husband. Just kidding, dear!

vnvet on August 10, 2014 at 7:37 PM

saying robots have employment rights is a nonsense… we employ similar “robots” all the time. Your smart phone is just such a robot. The ATM machines used by banks for decades are just such robots. The auto check in kiosk at the airport… most websites including amazon etc are just such robots.

You can’t apply this sort of ruling without turning everything on its head and it makes no sense in any case.

It would be like giving a hammer rights. These machines are tools, not sapient or sentient beings. They operate on strict IF/THEN logic loops. Giving them rights would be like giving a spreadsheet rights.

Now might a TRUE AI need rights? Maybe. But a fast food checkout kiosk is not a true AI. Kindly don’t throw this trial lawyer nonsense at us because despite some ruling from some foolish judge, there is no way automated systems are getting rights of any kind sans some serious evidence of sapience and sentience.

Karmashock on August 10, 2014 at 8:04 PM

“A kiss may be grand. But it won’t pay the rental. On your humble flat. Or help you at the automat.”

Of course, the party line here is that we must embrace the meme that increased automation and technology leads to even more prosperity and advancements.

I for one choose to be a realist and view this as the fulfillment of Socialism, Corporate Fascism, and the eugenics movement.

I’d think this area has massive implications for farming, too. Imagine a line of harvesting combines operated by GPS enabled robots and served by robotic loading trucks. A very few people could farm thousands and thousands of acres.

trigon on August 10, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Why on earth would they do that? The world is increasingly run by folks who think we use too much energy and protein. You know, the string baggers.

They want less mouths to feed, not more. And they’re very uneasy about the earth’s finite resources being used up by us sheeple. They’ve already made up their minds in their think tanks and university campuses as to how many of us should be kept around, and which of us with acceptable genes.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 10, 2014 at 10:31 PM

saying robots have employment rights is a nonsense… we employ similar “robots” all the time. Your smart phone is just such a robot. The ATM machines used by banks for decades are just such robots. The auto check in kiosk at the airport… most websites including amazon etc are just such robots.

You can’t apply this sort of ruling without turning everything on its head and it makes no sense in any case.

It would be like giving a hammer rights. These machines are tools, not sapient or sentient beings. They operate on strict IF/THEN logic loops. Giving them rights would be like giving a spreadsheet rights.

Now might a TRUE AI need rights? Maybe. But a fast food checkout kiosk is not a true AI. Kindly don’t throw this trial lawyer nonsense at us because despite some ruling from some foolish judge, there is no way automated systems are getting rights of any kind sans some serious evidence of sapience and sentience.

Karmashock on August 10, 2014 at 8:04 PM

It’s just the SEIU desperate for new recruits.

slickwillie2001 on August 10, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Robots don’t have standing.

Well, maybe the Hollywood ones do, but I’d love to see some idiot lawyer try to argue a case for paying a machine.

That undermines the entire valuation of machines. In the extreme, it would become uneconomical to build machines. Then we can revert to third world conditions.

The left has this goal covered from all angles.

freedomfirst on August 11, 2014 at 12:43 AM

I was in Tokyo last winter for a week, some notes from there:
a) 4 of a dozen restaurants in had an electronic sign in board vs hostess. It was great you could walk up and see where you were in the que. They pulled your name from it for your check.
b) One conveyor belt sushi place had electronic menu at each table. Special orders delivered to table by Lionel train that stopped at your table above the conveyor belt. Only humans came by with wand that read the RFID tags on the plates and gave you the bill, they also bussed the plates. One cashier at entry that also watched / managed the seating area.
c) Many vending machines with hot food, cold food, drinks, coffee.
d) Nearly every larger grocery had you bag your own things.

Jay Galt on August 11, 2014 at 1:51 AM

Robot hamburger factory makes 360 Gourmet Burgers every hour…
http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/12/robot-hamburger-factory-makes-360.html

Sandbear on August 11, 2014 at 2:55 AM

While the upfront cost of new hardware is paid in a lump sum, it gets written off for the next decade, so that the annual cost is something much closer to 10% of the equipment cost when purchased. Plus Overhead & Maintenance. In the overhead is electricity, mostly, for equipment and the maintenance is its spare parts and repairs.

Thus the annual cost of equipment for its annual write-down, plus O&M must be less than or equal to the cost of an hourly wage worker if both are doing the exact, same tasks. That is where mass production helps to lower up front costs, which then reduces the annual write-off, meaning the wage employee has a lower number to compete against. The larger the production run the lower the per unit cost. My guess is the high cost wage areas will see automation hit first for things like food service and other manual labor.

Do note robots don’t require a wage: they perform a function. We’ve had lots of robots in the factory workspace for decades.

If you want humans to be able to do jobs and earn a living, then get rid of the minimum wage, because there are lower limits to mass produced automated equipment. Detroit lost jobs to robots due to the high overhead and maintenance, plus wages of their workers. If there was no Union to fight for higher wages and workers were willing to take less to retain a job, then automation could have been staved off for at least a decade. That means you let individuals decide what a ‘decent wage’ is and not a group.

ajacksonian on August 11, 2014 at 7:58 AM

I’m on the fence here. On the one hand I kind of hate to see entry level jobs go the way of the dinosaur, but I have to admit I REALLY prefer not to have to deal with clerks/cashiers if I can possibly avoid it.
Kiosks are quicker, more convenient, and you don’t have to ask them to get off the cell phone or wait until they’re done gossiping with their co-worker before they grace you with their attention.

Stragen_AK on August 11, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Good start, but first I’d like to see Robo-Border Patrol …

Me too, either T800 or T1000 preferably.

Severian on August 10, 2014 at 3:56 PM

Heck, even an ED-209 would be better than what we have now!

dominigan on August 11, 2014 at 9:55 AM

Would robots have to file a “10W 30″ with the IRS?

JetBoy on August 10, 2014 at 4:44 PM

I thought it was funny, but the Kool Kids aren’t amused apparently.

Tard on August 11, 2014 at 10:06 AM

Skywise on August 10, 2014 at 4:29 PM

I am waiting for someone to either seriously push for a minimum living wage for everyone, or some sort of penalty-tax for implementing technology that replaces human workers, perhaps with the goal of making it cheaper to hire someone at a good wage than to implement the technology. For instance, there could be a yearly tax on said robot that is equal to or even exceeds by a bit the cost of hiring a human/humans to do that job. I have mixed feelings about this myself…yeah, we can argue against this ‘because free enterprise’, but one of a government’s primary functions is to maintain order…large masses of unemployed people who can’t feed or house themselves is not conducive to societal order. I know many believe Marx was wrong (and I’m one of them, believe me), but I fear that he may have been right in one thing…that eventually capitalism will fuel its own destruction.

avgjo on August 11, 2014 at 3:19 PM

I should add, my mixed feelings include the moral aspect of leaving people without work, without the means to support themselves or their families…

avgjo on August 11, 2014 at 3:25 PM

The robot’s rights thing sounds like somebody has been smoking in Colorado. But I do believe it is only a matter of time before a robot tax is levied to support the government social services. I mean think about it, if a robot replaces three human checkers at say $10 an hour a piece how many dollars of Social Security “contribution” have the Feds lost? If it’s one thing that the Fed’s are always looking for it’s more tax money.

Browncoatone on August 11, 2014 at 8:19 PM