Right now, the food industry employs roughly 12% of the U.S. work force. This includes jobs in agriculture, food and beverage product manufacture, and food and beverage service. Many of these jobs, of course, are minimum wage.
But reading Sunday’s New York Times makes me wonder how many of these and better jobs will be replaced by robots, and much sooner than I had imagined.
The falling costs and growing sophistication of robots have touched off a renewed debate among economists and technologists over how quickly jobs will be lost…the advent of low-cost automation foretells changes on the scale of the revolution in agricultural technology over the last century, when farming employment in the United States fell from 40 percent of the work force to about 2 percent today.
…And at Earthbound Farms in California, four newly installed robot arms with customized suction cups swiftly place clamshell containers of organic lettuce into shipping boxes. The robots move far faster than the people they replaced. Each robot replaces two to five workers at Earthbound, according to John Dulchinos, an engineer who is the chief executive at Adept Technology, a robot maker based in Pleasanton, Calif., that developed Earthbound’s system.
From the standpoint of industry, once the price of robots drops sufficiently their advantages far outweigh their stupidity.
Robots don’t call in sick, get pregnant, get into fights, have affairs with fellow workers, ask for raises, or threaten to go on strike.
What will it be like to live in a society in which vast segments of food production and service are replaced by robots?
Back to the farm, anyone?