Facebook unveiled its latest bot last week. In response to a rash of suicides committed on Facebook Live, the platform will try to identify at-risk users and get them help before they harm themselves. “Based on feedback from experts, we are testing a streamlined reporting process using pattern recognition in posts previously reported for suicide. This artificial intelligence approach will make the option to report a post about ‘suicide or self injury’ more prominent for potentially concerning posts like these,” said Facebook in a statement.
Meanwhile, in California, a hamburger flipping robot has reported for work. The first Flippy has been installed at CaliBurger, a fast-food chain. The robot flips hamburger patties and places them on the bun. Flippy can tell if a burger is done by various sensors and cameras. Eventually, Flippy’s maker, Miso Robotics, plans to make “kitchen assistants” that will do all sorts of dangerous and dirty work in commercial kitchens, such as chopping vegetables and frying chicken.
Other fast food jobs are being replaced by kiosks, with Wendy’s becoming the latest chain to adopt them. Meanwhile, Uber and many in the auto industry appear to be investing in self-driving vehicles to replace humans behind the wheel. Finally, most of the manufacturing job losses that have hit the Midwest have been a result of automation. It’s easy to succumb to the hype that robots are about to replace humans. However, that’s not going to happen in the immediate future—if at all.
For starters, much of this technology won’t pan out. Remember when self-checkout machines were going to replace supermarket clerks? Self-checkout machines have been removed from a number of retailers, and the profession of supermarket cashier is still alive and kicking. By and large, self-checkouts have not fully replaced human cashiers because they can’t handle larger orders as efficiently.
Speaking of technology not panning out, remember flying cars? Of course those didn’t happen, and there’s reason to suspect that the new transportation fantasy of fully self-driving cars won’t, either. Public transit consultant Jarred Walker wrote that completely self-driving cars are—most likely—not possible because automakers won’t be able to get past the stage where humans only take over in the event of the system failure or to avert an accident. The human “driver” will be too distracted by not doing anything that they won’t be paying attention.
But Walker believes fully-automated mass transit systems are a very real possibility. Some already exist in a small scale. For example, the Las Vegas Monorail is completely driverless.
One of the reasons why automation won’t totally displace humans is because a machine cannot replicate the human touch. Chick Fil-A, for example, is well-known in the fast food industry for customer service. A customer gives their order to a pleasant human being and sometimes a worker even brings their food out to them. Even as McDonald’s replaces some cashiers with kiosks, they’re rolling out table service as well.
Similarly, it’s difficult to see robots replacing waiters and waitresses. Getting your meal from a robot just wouldn’t be the same as getting one from a smiling person. There’s a reason why buying cars online hasn’t taken off; customers want the service experience from a salesman. Most jobs related to customer service are safe from automation.
History has shown that, though technology kills some jobs, new jobs are created to replace the old ones. There’s no reason to believe that this won’t be the case here. Humans still have to operate and monitor the machinery used to build the robots. They also have to sell and transport the robots to their destinations. There will be some things that robots cannot build or extract. The surplus labor in many cases will be freed to pursue other ventures, many of whom will be job creators as well.
Increasing automation will make our lives easier and better, but it won’t completely kill the need for human labor. There are many industries where the human touch is still needed.
Kevin Boyd is a Louisiana-based writer and commentator who has been previously published by PracticalPoliticking.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TheKevinBoy, , the Foundation for Economic Education, the R Street Institute, the Capital Research Center, and other media outlets. He also serves as the Blog Editor at