SoftBank’s robot Pepper has just been hired by Pizza Hut. By the end of the year, Pizza Hut restaurants in Asia, in collaboration with MasterCard, will have the humanoid robot on hand to take and fulfill orders. PC Magazine reports that the collaboration is intended to push MasterCard’s MasterPass digital wallet, which Pepper will accept at the pizza chain. The Verge reports that the robot will be tested for commercial uses, signaling the company’s plan to reduce their human workforce.
— PCMag (@PCMag) May 24, 2016
This move is just the latest in what is quickly becoming the norm in Chinese manufacturing plants, and U.S companies are taking notice. Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has just replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. A Chinese government official has confirmed that a Foxconn factory in Kunshan has reduced its workforce from 110,000 to 50,000. According to a statement released to BBC News, this is just the beginning.
“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control.”
China has invested a great deal of money into the robotic workforce. Since 2014, hundreds of Asian factories have taken an interest in creating a robotic workforce by investing a massive 4.2 billion yuan (approximately $632 million), but Foxconn Technology Group doesn’t feel that the continued automating of tasks will contribute significantly to the unemployment rate.
“We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.”
While Foxconn denies robotics will affect the job market, economists say that approximately 35 percent of jobs are at risk over the next 20 years. Former McDonald’s chief executive Ed Rensi recently told Fox News that increasing the minimum wage to $15 will entice U.S. companies to eye a robotic workforce.
“It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1.3 million people are making the minimum $7.25 per hour, and an increase to $15 is making employers consider the cost-cutting benefits of automation. A robot doesn’t require insurance, sick days, or overtime, and there is no fear of insubordination or lawsuits pertaining to labor disputes or sexual and racial harassment.
Foxconn has had its share of employee problems: underage workers, horrific working conditions, food poisoning, dormitory riots, and an explosion at an iPad plant that killed three people. The Taiwanese contract manufacturer acquired a controlling stake in Sharp on April 2, owning 66 percent of the 104-year-old Japanese firm, and a partnership with SoftBank Robotics Holding Corp. that includes an investment of $1.4 billion each from Foxconn and Alibaba means that businesses are actively looking to a non-human workforce to ensure fiscal success. Foxconn employed 1.5 million people in China in 2015.
While Rensi sees the beauty of robots coming into the restaurant industry from a business standpoint, he hasn’t lost his humanity. He knows that fast-food restaurants are just the beginning and replacing humans with robots will have a devastating effect on the American economy.
“It’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe.”
[Photo by Koki Nagahama & Tom Boyle/Getty Images]