By B.N. Frank
Most would agree that COVID fears, mandates, and restrictions have had a devastating effect on countless peoples’ lives worldwide. This includes business owners, some of whom now can’t find enough employees to fill vacant positions. Of course, Americans have valid reasons for not wanting to return to work. Employers are among many entities pressuring prospective employees to take the COVID vaccine (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) despite ongoing reports about side effects and deaths among recipients (see 1, 2, 3).
Nevertheless, desperate times call for desperate measures. This has led to some employers integrating Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and Automation into their businesses despite expert warnings about these technologies (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
COVID Brings Automation to the Workplace Killing Some Jobs
Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, a fast-food chain in Ohio, hardly seems an obvious venue for cutting-edge artificial intelligence. But the company’s drive-thrus are showcasing technology that reveals how the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the creep of automation into some workplaces.
Unable to find enough workers, Chuck Cooper, CEO of Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, installed an automated voice system in many locations to take orders. The system, developed by Intel and Hi Auto, a voice recognition firm, never fails to upsell customers on fries or a drink, which Cooper says has boosted sales. At outlets with the voice system, there’s no longer a need for a person to take orders at the drive-thru window. “It also never calls in sick,” Cooper says.
Cooper says he thinks enhanced unemployment checks have kept some potential workers away, but he says concerns about exposure to Covid and difficulty getting child care because of the pandemic may also be factors. Still, he says, “There’s no way we’re going back.”
Other employers, too, are deploying automation in place of workers during the pandemic. Some restaurants and supermarkets say they cannot find enough new workers to open new locations. Many businesses are keen to rehire workers as quickly as they can, but economists say the technology will remain, replacing employees in some cases.
History suggests “automation takes place faster during recessions and sticks thereafter,” says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT. “It should be doubly true today.” Acemoglu says companies are adopting more automation partly due to staff shortages but also because it can help with new safety measures, and to improve efficiency.
“Automation takes place faster during recessions and sticks thereafter.” – Daron Acemoglu, economist, MIT
That’s true of many meat processors, which adopted technology at the start of the pandemic to enable social distancing between workers, says Jonathan Van Wyck, a partner at Boston Consulting Group. Now a labor shortage that is driving up wages is prompting one processor he works with to deploy more machines. It recently installed a camera system that uses AI algorithms to look for foreign objects, such as a stray glove in freshly cut meat; the system will replace at least one worker. “A lot of companies start with an automation process and realize there are lots of opportunities in the digital space that aren’t robotics but can move the needle on labor,” he says.
David Autor, another MIT economist who studies computerization and its impact on the labor market, believes Covid has accelerated changes that almost surely would eventually have occurred. Now they’ll no longer be considered something for “the future,” he says.
President Biden recently committed to incorporating more A.I. into Americans’ lives. Will “saving the soul of the nation” actually be possible with A.I.?
Activist Post reports regularly about A.I. and other unsafe technology. For more information visit our archives and the following websites.
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