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A Robot Makes a Mean Caesar Salad, but Will It Cost Jobs? (nytimes.com)
95 points by johnwheeler on Oct 9, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 224 comments



Why is the UI on these things so atrocious? It took him a number of key presses just to select from a list of 6 and many more to finalize the purchase. Why not have a bunch of large tactile buttons at the bottom of the screen like all normal vending machines do? I don't want to wait in line for 3 minutes while some technophobe tries to figure out how to nagivate a pressure touchscreen with 12 menus deep. It's not his fault, it's the fault of the UI designers who think all they have to work with is a bunch of pixels and X/Y coordinates of presses. There's more to UI than that.


It's because it's way, way cheaper and more flexible to use a touchscreen PLC, like one of these:

https://www.automationdirect.com/adc/Shopping/Catalog/HMI_(H...

than a huge mess of buttons and wires.

Just look at that linked product! Less than $500 and you have as many buttons and labels as you can shake a stick at, and it's all behind a pretty color display. I can hardly buy 3 buttons, a vinyl overlay, and pay for the labor for the wiring of that stuff (plus the PLC that you'd now need behind it all) for $500. Much less pay someone to make physical modifications to the completed machine when someone decides they need 4 buttons.

You say it's the fault of the "UI designers" who think they're working with pixels and X/Y coordinates. The situation far worse than that! The person who writes the UI for these is probably an EE thinking in terms of the primitive ladder logic that drives the machine. And it doesn't help that the software you use to configure these things is pretty terrible.


Honestly I have zero beef with touchscreen interfaces, some are a little clunky but I've never found one I couldn't figure out.

That said, DUMP THE GODDAMN RESISTIVE SCREENS IN THE TRASH. Seriously those things were fucking garbage when they were invented, now that we have capacitive screens, there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER to keep making me endure the touch technology of 2001.

While we're at it get them out of my fucking car too.


Don't you want to be able to control your radio with gloves on?


They make gloves that can work capacitive screens, and they aren't even expensive anymore. Meanwhile resistive screens suck just as hard with gloved or ungloved hands.


Resistive screens don't help with that in practice. Physical buttons do.


>Less than $500 and you have as many buttons and labels as you can shake a stick at, and it's all behind a pretty color display.

A raspberry pi + touchscreen is 1/5th of that. RPi is capable of running Qt5 which would be a solid UI choice.

How the heck have they survived?


A few reasons: Because a Raspberry Pi and Ebay touchscreen won't be running or supported in 20 years, while the PLC will. The IO on a Pi needs optoisolators and hardening that's built into the PLC, and it needs soldering, while the touchscreen has built-in screw terminals. And while the software sucks, anyone remotely competent can go from zero knowledge to bumble into a working, sturdy product on the PLC in perhaps 80 hours. Qt has a much steeper learning curve.

Essentially, the touchscreen is an RPi and touchscreen, plus some industrial enclosure, strengthening, and connectors all wrapped up into a product. That integration is definitely worth $400. Or, if you want the name brand stuff, the Allen Bradley version of the same will set you back another $2000.


In addition to all the features you'd have to pay someone to add, and software you'd have to pay someone to write, what are the noise immunity, temperature, shock, vibration, and emission etc. specs for a RPi? Does it have UL, CE, etc. approvals? Does it have a warranty?

Does it still have all these things after you've modified it?


The same way I was able to buy a $30 display and sensor off AliExpress, install it in a $5 plastic box, test it and resell it for $120.

Value was added. Sometimes, simply knowing what product to purchase is worth hundreds of dollars.


Oooh, that is a nice one.


I don't want to wait in line for 3 minutes while some old guy tries to figure out

Please rewrite, this is borderline discriminatory and quite offensive. Some "old guys" can be as capable to handle such UI as some "young guys".

Disclaimer: half-old guy.

[EDIT] thanks for replacing "old guy" with "technophobe".


If your talking about my Dad he wouldn't be eating salad anyway.


I actually admire your request and also the new word, that replaced the "old guy". Will try to stick to it.


Not sure why you are being downvoted. Perhaps because ageism is still a borderline ok form of discrimination?


It could have been that parent graciously took my suggestion and replaced "old guy" with "technophobe" in his/her comment, while mine stayed, implicitly making my comment a rather incorrect interpretation and triggering down votes from others. Downvotes are a small price to pay for clarity :-)


I believe he's being downvoted because some believe that there should be a balance between political correctness and skin thickness rather than just full on PC. (This includes me.)


It's a lot easier to have a thick skin when you're in a demographic nobody discriminates against.


There is no such thing. Every demographic gets discriminated against in some way or another, in ways that are not always directly comparable. Self-victimization, I'm sure, will be of great help.


I'm sure it is. I'm not trying to minimize discrimination.


Well, you did talk about "balance" so you are to some extent.

[Edit] Also, you called it "PC" so, yes you are minimizing it.


How dare I?


Well, you do you.


Perhaps people are sick of language policing.


Do you really want a world where people pretend not to discriminate?


Fake it till you make it.


That actually sounds authentic.


Have you ever been to a Sheetz gas station?

They seem to have a good UI (although they started working on it over 20 years ago).

https://www.cstoredecisions.com/2011/03/10/in-touch-with-foo...


As their menu has grown it has been getting a little harder to figure out where things are but moving around the menu is really easy. I suspect the latter helps with the former.

Also, what's wrong with a ham and cheese sandwich with mayo and Cesar dressing (in the article)? That's one thing that is great about the Sheetz UI is that I can add buffalo sauce, ranch/mayo, and bacon to nearly every sandwich, which is delicious. My all-time favorite is a bacon, lettuce, mayo, and buffalo sauce cheeseburger or chicken sandwich on a pretzel bun.


That's why I am always delighted when I see an iPad hooked up as a point-of-sales system.

Not because iPads are inherently superior to old style PoS systems (they are not, they can't provide tactile buttons) or because any one UI they offer is particularly good, but because they herald a new era of lower barriers to entry into the PoS terminals market.


I set up the Square POS app with their credit card reader for my kids' school uniform shop. It's got a grid of icons with the products.

Even the most utterly technophobic volunteer mum can operate it. So good.


Heck, I'm the complete opposite of a technophobe, and I could barely navigate a similar UX trying to get some food and drinks at Newark Int'l Airport. Every table had an iPad with a UI like this. IIRC, I even screwed up part of my order because the UX was so overly complex.


Same with the newer ATM's hopeless UX design my back hides the deposit cash function in the "card payments" menue FFS


We should stop worrying whether AI will cost jobs, but instead think about who reaps the benefits of thousands of years of technological progress, and how those benefits can be distributed more fairly.


Exactly. Comments about"costing jobs" always miss the point, partially or wholly. _Jobs are a cost._ They are what it takes to create _wealth_. At issue is how to best create and distribute wealth.


I disagree a little bit. We are all typing this from our comfy environments, able to pay for Internet, etc.

What about when jobs start to disappear and the economy as we know starts to change for the worse? Either by affecting us directly, or the markets which we are a part of, I don't think this will be a positive thing.


My local coffee place has humans who operate an espresso machine, while Starbucks has baristas who push a button, and there are vending machines that produces espresso without having an operator. None of this excites a moral panic. Kitchen labor-saving devices have been being invented for hundreds of thousands of years. What's new?

Think about wheat. Wheat used to be ground in stone mills operated by oxen or wind or water, which is much more labor-intensive than today's mills. Before that, the grinding process was even more labor-intensive.


> None of this excites a moral panic.

It has done, in the past, and these concerns have not been without merit.

The Ur-Case is that of the Luddites. When weaving machines came onto the fore in 19th century Britain, groups of saboteurs fearing for their jobs wrecked the machines with rocks and hammers. The Crown response was swift and unflinching. Machine-breaking was made a capital offence and the Luddites were put down with the violence typical of 19th century law enforcement.

Nowadays we look on and shake our heads. In the long run the Luddites' fears were unfounded. Mechanisation improved productivity, which meant more cloth could be made cheaply, which increased the size of the market, boosted purchasing power and opened up new markets for new kinds of work.

In the short run, however, things were not so comfortable for the workers of Northern England. The 'compensatory effects' of technological improvement took many years to land. In the meanwhile an entire generation of men were reduced to penury.

Perhaps these technologies will open new markets after all. But how quickly? And will the jobs compare? What happens when the work human beings like and are good at disappears? What happens when only trivial jobs remain? What does that do to people and their relation to society?


"The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a "fraudulent and deceitful manner" to get around standard labour practices.[1] Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste as machines would replace their role in the industry.[2]"

"It is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery itself in an attempt to halt progress of technology."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

The modern day equivalent would be the French anti-Uber strike:

https://www.theverge.com/2016/1/26/10832204/french-taxi-uber...

CATO's agenda, of course, requires depicting the French taxi drivers as "luddites protesting technology" which neatly illustrates exactly why the misconception has persisted for so long:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewfeeney2/2015/06/30/uber-...


This is an incorrect history of the Luddites. They didn't fear for their jobs. Most of them were machine operators and most of the machines they destroyed was over 200 years old at the time.

It was a protest about shit working conditions caused.


What's new? Well, if we keep replacing low-skill jobs by high-skills ones, we may have a little problem: are humans going to keep up with the training? Is the workforce going to adapt fast enough?

When job replacement happens over several generations, it's a pretty easy problem to solve. When it gets faster, turns out some human abilities are not scaling very well.


Horses used to be used for practically everything. The first commercial steam engine pumped water from mines and was measured in "horsepower", the the rate at which a horse could continuously pump water. Then steam engines replaced freight hauling. Then personal transport. Don't see many working horses now.


Don't see many horses at all. That is, the offspring of those working horses certainly doesn't roam about in pastures, to pursue happiness because there are no jobs that require them.


I've read here that the obsolete horses helped bootstrap the pet food industry...


That was not something I needed to know.


In Pursuit of Honor (1995)

> The movie follows the plight of the officers as they attempt to save the animals that the Army no longer needs as it modernizes toward a mechanized military.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113399/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Pursuit_of_Honor


Are you implying that human population could ultimately decline, because of AI and automation ? If so, why is that undesirable.


Some believe that a human life has intrinsic value, even outside the value of the species as a whole and even outside the value of that human's labour.


True, but some believe that population growth has to stabilise at some point.


It is stabilizing already, natality in developing countries dropped much faster than what was expected.


A solution is providing the option of mid-life education.

Of course this comes more easily to places with free education.


What about if there are a group of people who cannot do mid-to-high skilled jobs (whilst potentially controversial, I think this is accurate)?

If we replace all of those jobs what do they do?

I have always thought there is a far-future dystopian story in that somewhere; society has evolved IT and automation to the extent that only the top 25% of individuals actually "work" and everyone else has leisure. The 25% decide they want a leisurely life also, causing the collapse of society...


Even if there is such a group of people, unable to learn a new trade, surely they're not the majority. So there is lots of room for improving the situation.

There are lots of stories of American coal miners going into tech when the mining jobs dried up. But their process of getting there is through charitable organizations, not a proper educational program.


There are vested interests in promoting those sorts of stories, as a counterpoint to the depressing reality that far more drop out of the economy onto the disability rolls and slowly or quickly drink and drug themselves to death.


Coal mining was (and is) tech, so it shouldn't be a surprise that some workers can move into another area of engineering.


The 75% should only be provided with little more than bare essentials. An apartment, food, and health care, with a small allowance for niceties.

The 25% that actually work should be rewarded with luxuries. Financial means to travel, own their own house, drive a nice car, etc.


Who do the 25% sell all their custom salads to? Automation is great at producing consumer goods not so much at producing luxury goods. One would think that the problem of not enough consumers to buy the stuff automation produces would be a self limiting mechanism. A UBI doesnt really address the problem either because it is essentially just taking money from those that own the automation equipment and giving it to those that don't so they can turn around and buy stuff from the automation equipment :/


But human life is dynamic. The most productive and innovative contributors start out as drooling infants and up as feeble elders. Society has to support more than high earners and their favorites.


Certainly. And we'll support the drooling infants and feeble elders.

And we'd also provide the opportunities for people to learn what is necessary to move from the 75% to the 25%.


and available careers, not just jobs.


Another question: How will they pay for that retraining; will the high skill jobs really pay enough to cover 2-4 years of schooling debt?

And that's another one - will that high skill job exist after 2-4 years of retraining?


>labor-saving devices have been being invented for hundreds of thousands of years. What's new?

An extremely larger population that any other period in time (more than double what was merely 100 years ago), combined with the most extreme productivity improvements and new technologies like AI and robotics that can make most of them redundant in a few large fell swoops.

Plus, the fact that for most of humanity's existence, the masses mattered mostly if they were useful to some end, not for their intristic value as human beings.


Mattered to whom?

People always matter at least to themselves.


>Mattered to whom?

To those that run society and determine policy.

>People always matter at least to themselves.

Which is neither here nor there as to whether anyone will lend them a helping hand or let them perish e.g. in slums and poverty.

Though even at that one would be surprised. People left without a job/role in society often don't matter even to themselves -- low self esteem, turning to drugs, alcohol, etc.


>People left without a job/role in society often don't matter even to themselves -- low self esteem, turning to drugs, alcohol, etc.

I see this argument all the time here, but no one accounts for the fact that we live in a society in which people's worth is largely determined by their ability to secure financial stability. Who's to say that people without jobs, allowed to live without societal derision in a (best case) post work future would be inevitably reduced in spirit?


I covered that in the first part of my comment: the masses are rarely nurtured when they are not useful.

So, it's more likely that they'll be left to rot, than that they'll be provided for and allowed to be included is a "post work future".


Oh, I'm not optimistic at all that the kind of societal shift I'm talking about will/can happen, at least in any peaceful/gentle way- that's why I said in a best case.

I'm just objecting to the idea that working for a living is necessary for self esteem or self actualization.


Grinding wheat left byproducts of the stone burrs in the wheat product. This ground the enamel off peoples teeth leaving them nearly toothless by their mid-thirties. It wasn't till recently that "milling" became the norm in flour production. The wheat berry is not crushed in the milling process but is first burst and torn successively into every finer pieces. Some people have never tasted freshly milled flour made into bread. Total pity that...,


Could you cite a source for grinding wheat leaving sufficient stone burr particles resulting in enamel damage? I could not find a source via Google.


Dental health and disease in ancient Egypt

http://www.nature.com/bdj/journal/v206/n8/full/sj.bdj.2009.3...

I got there by googling [wheat enamel damage -gluten stone], there's lots more than just this one article


Getting the vast majority of your food from a single starchy source is also not great for dental (or general) health, even without the sand chewing part.


What's different is that the button was being pushed by a human.

That human gets paid a salary and earns a living.

And that human could presumably choose not to push the button if the expresso machine tries to become sentient (in theory).


The vending machine still has many humans involved: building it involved humans, maintaining it involves humans. The difference is that the button is pushed by the customer. That's the same amount of human labor, actually, it's just that the customer isn't paying someone else for the button press.


Lets say the vending machine costs $2,000 a year including maintenance and everything. That means there can't be more than $2,000 worth of human labor involved in it, neither in production or maintenance. That's an order of magnitude less labor involved than hiring a person. If it didn't save labor, there'd be no economic advantage to it after all.

On top of that, the jobs it does require are skilled. Engineers to design it, mechanics to repair it. They aren't jobs like a barista that you can get without any experience or education. Even the work of assembling it can be outsourced to some third world country, or automated itself.


That means there can't be more than $2,000 worth of human labor involved in it, neither in production or maintenance.

That is not necessarily true, as the company could be subsidizing its labor costs in order to gain salad-vending marketshare.


I believe the vending machine has greater work overhead and uses more materials than an actual human. Thnik about it: precut veggies stored in refrigerated (probably plastic) containers. Somebody has to supply and prepare the veggies. Some other human has to resupply the machine when it runs out of veggies. Some other human has to fix the vending machine when it stops working. Some other humans have to design the machine and assemble it, at least in part. With an actual human you'd only have to supply the raw veggies and the human worker would do all the preparation (using food processors), serving and processing payments. One could automate some tasks like payment processing or have two humans operate the salad bar: one that prepares and serves the salads and one that processes payments. This would avoid cooks switching between working with (dirty) cash and preparing salads.


I disagree and think the machine has less overhead. Yes there is a large cost upfront to develop and manufacture it. But once the machine has been designed and tested, it will never have to be designed again. Design is a one time cost.

Once manufacturing is underway, the process is typically made as efficient as possible and made to scale. The work that went into design and testing can now be scaled to thousands or millions of units which is a great return on investment. Each unit has a one time cost for materials used for parts, with some long term maintenence costs.

Operation requires only an electric energy draw. If that energy is from a clean source such as solar, this unit isn't having much of any further negative impact. Operation could last years or decades depending on design and whether or not the product is superceded, at which time its parts can be recycled. Even then, the time spent on design will be used to create the next version.

Supplying the machines with goods is already a task handled when goods are delivered to the location and stocked, so there isn't going to be much or any overhead added there. Plus, we can automate that too (self-driving vehicles for transportation, robots for the last leg of delivery and stocking).

Human workers do not scale in the same way that machines do, and aren't typically as efficient at this type of task.

Finding suitable human workers is difficult and can take considerable time and resources every time one is hired.

Human workers are expensive, and this is an ongoing neverending cost. This cost will not scale down as you hire more workers or work them for a longer time (unlike machines).

Human reliability is hit and miss. Also, you cannot work them 24/7. There is lots of downtime and you would require at least 3 or 4 humans to replace 1 machine if the task requires 24/7 uptime.

The enegry that humans consume and their waste is typically not effecient. Three meals a day, often including animal products which are costly in terms of resources and environmental impact. Then there's waste treatment for them. And the energy costs to deliver the food from a farm to their location, and even farm growing and harvesting.

None of this is as effecient or "green" as a renewable energy draw such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric delivered over a power line.

On many levels, humans are a poor replacement for machines in predictable tasks such as making a coffee or a sandwich for a chain restaurant. Humans are good for social work, and making coffee is not social.

In terms of someone needing a job, even if that job is meaningless and unnecessary, basic income should be provided instead. But that's a whole other conversation and we aren't there yet.

Point is: Machines are efficient. Social impact is a different conversation.


That human can, if properly trained and motivated, recognize when the coffee being served isn't coming out right. They can interface with customers and resolve complicated human problems, de-escalating when necessary to find a good outcome.

A robot has no way of knowing if the coffee will taste good or contains rat poison. It's just going through the motions. If it serves you a dud drink you can't argue with it, you just got scammed. Post an angry Yelp review if it makes you feel better.


That's an argument for having a higher-value problem-solving employee around, not an argument for having several lower-value button-pushing employees around.

Fewer, higher value employees has been the trend in many industries for the past few hundred thousand years.


Or for better sensors on the robot. There's no fundamental reason it can't tell if the drink is correct.


The fundamental reason it can't tell if the drink is correct is that "correct" is in the eye of the beholder. You cannot trivially formalize expectations any random human would have of a drink made by human.

You can, however, force people to lower their expectations until they can be trivially formalized. That's what happens with tea/coffee vending machines. The dispensed drink is really bad, but it's uniformly bad, and since people don't expect quality coffee from a vending machine, they don't complain.


You can get better espresso out of the lavazza coffee machine on palatine hill in Rome than is served in many cafes in this world. So technologically it sure is possible to do better.


Why do we need an extra person? There's already a human present, the customer. Let them submit the feedback and fix their coffee at the same time.


I don't want to get through the hurdle of contacting Big Co. through an automated form when the vending machine has scammed me. It's way easier with a human operator. Ever tried to dial into a call center and waited like 30 minutes after navigating through voice menus in order to talk to an actual human to fix your problem?


The way this is going to work, to use McDonald's as an example, is that instead of having 40-50 total people operating a normal franchise location across 2 or 3 shifts, you're going to have 15-20.

The cashiers are gone. The fry cook is gone. The drive-thru order taker is gone. The cooks are gone.

You'll still have a preparer that will probably also do running (they'll bag the multiple, separate items up and take them to the front). You'll have a shift manager that will help with a bit of everything (eg if a customer has a problem with the order kiosk or payment). You'll still have a human cleaning the building and parking lot, taking out trash. There will also obviously be people routinely involved in machine maintenance, installation, etc.

There will be some complication with condiments and food layering. There will probably be a position for food ammo reloader, that keeps the machines loaded with whatever that machine cooks / prepares.

It would be possible to get rid of the bagger/runner, but it'd probably be cost prohibitive and needlessly complex to assemble the various robots on a line that could also bag properly.

At its best, eventually, this system will produce more food (1.5x to 4x I'd guess), at a lower per customer cost, with superior food safety (including hygiene). Then it's a question of how much of that gain gets competed away (benefiting customers) and how much goes into the pocket of the owners.

Starbucks will be similar. They won't get rid of all their humans, they'll reduce their number significantly.

It's likely to be a decades long, piece by piece, transition. The early results won't be spectacular for either customers or franchise owners, it'll take many years of gradual improvement.


The reason I buy coffee at a coffee shop is because I want it done properly, and "properly" is largely a subjective thing. A good shop will have someone who's intimately familiar with what they're preparing and will tune the machine at multiple times per day to get the right result.

A robot just does what it's told.

Starbucks used to have manual machines and the results were...variable. Some days you'd get a substandard drink, but if you got someone who knew what they were doing, the results were fantastic.

It's like before the coffee would be anywhere beteween a 6 and 9 out of 10. Now they're consistently 7.5 out of 10 every time. Boring, predictable, never bad, but never great.


That's probably why humans start hitting vending machines when they just gobble up the cash and fail to operate properly.


> A robot has no way of knowing if the coffee will taste good or contains rat poison

Eventually automated systems ought to be able to do this better than most people can. Why couldn't there be engineered sensors that could detect such things very well?


Because there is no theory linking interaction of molecules to flavour yet, although there are some preliminary work from some labs on this (with beer)


Seeing as humans don't usually taste their coffee before serving, identifying flavour is probably not strictly necessary to the task.

And given that the act of making good-enough coffee isn't a very difficult task (given how readily available and quickly trained "baristas" are), and how mechanical the process is already, im not sure there's anything to suggest it isn't do-able. Its more likely a matter of cost and scale


Smelling is already a form of tasting, just like looking at how it behaves because we humans are really good at combining our senses to get the input we look for, that's why most people usually don't taste the coffee before serving, unless it's smelling/looking funny while brewing.

Replicating this with electrical sensors is a pretty complex task we still haven't managed to get working, after all we are not only talking about replicating the sense of taste but also the sense of smelling and how they interact with each other.


You don't actually have to replicate the interaction though, you just need to identify the particular range of smells that people accept, and have the machine capable of detecting it.

Generating a brand new style of good coffee might need the interaction though


But different people are accepting of different tastes and even those change with age, what people accept as nice smelling/tasting food can be quite subjective because the very same smell can be overpowering to some while appealing to others.

How to calibrate a sensor for something like that on a per user basis? I don't know, but apparently it's possible because "electronic noses" do exist but are mostly used in laboratory settings, probably on account of their price.

There's also a reason why we still use pigs and dogs for work that require good smelling senses, like search&rescue or truffle foraging. Training these animals is very expensive, but it still seems to be the cheaper option compared to building "smellobots", so I doubt smelling sensor are far enough along to be put into a ton of kitchen bots at small cost.


Its more likely a matter of cost and scale

This is not a trivial matter! Cost is entirely the reason a host of technologically-possible automation hasn't happened outside a lab.


I said "eventually". Are you saying it will never be possible?


Never is a long time, but it's also a theroetical.

The sun will eventually engulf the Earth rendering this argument irreelvant.


It works both ways, though. I was responding to a claim with an implicit "never" possible. Like you say, such a claim is theoretical, and I wanted to ask how that person knew it would never be possible.

Smell, taste and poison are all matters of physical molecules and how these interact with human physiology. We already understand these to some extent. We can already build devices that can detect some of these things to some extent. We have no grounds to say it's impossible for a human-level ability of it to be engineered. (Note that lack of positive evidence against X is not the same as positive evidence for X).


This would be so much easier if we just replaced the consumer with a more efficient AI.


Real-life George Jetson


>What's new?

American elites want:

* A convenient scapegoat for outsourced manufacturing jobs which they are to blame for.

* A convenient scapegoat for jobs lost to austerity which they are to blame for.

* A perennial threat to hang over uppity worker's heads to head off threats of unionization.


> What's new?

Nothing new indeed, but when something creates fear you can be sure there's always going to be someone that is going to take advantage of it to enact laws, collect taxes and the like.


I think most of that has excited moral (I would call it political) panic at one point or another. But, there isn't anything special about these salad machines, I agree.

The underlying narrative is a fear of automating lots of other things. The new wave of automation is still uncertain, we don't know how to identify nevermind personify the symbols and culprits of it. Automated kitchen robots are a nice stand-in for automation generally. Like the robots in the jetsons.


I'm bullish on food robots in general, but I have to say that as a fan of caesar salad, the output of that robot fails to impress. It looks exactly like what it is - a bunch of ingredients randomly dropped in a bowl. The lettuce hasn't even been tossed with the dressing!

I wouldn't pay for that, and IMO this robot has a long way to go before I'd agree it can make a "mean" salad.


Yeah, robots for food preparation I have seen in Japan are way more impressive than this one. Calling this a robot is an insult to properly designed robots. I would expect the salad to be mixed properly before it delivers the dish, at least.


This one also didn't seem very clean in its operation - it was shooting stuff everywhere outside of the bowl and I didn't see any cleaning mechanism come through to mop up the mess. I'd be a bit more impressed on this if the end result didn't look like something made by one of PeeWee Herman's contraptions.


I would add that if a bad cook can make an average salad, it doesn't make any easier to accept the fact that we make robots which can barely do better.

In other words, instead of replacing the cook by a machine, we should train him to cook better. And we should train people to make the difference between a soulless dish and a good one.

(I cook for myself and I can assure you that a machine can't cook; it can assemble ingredients, that's for sure but there's no creativity (and believe me, the simplest dish, if infused with creativity, can taste so much better))


The creativity has to happen at the "design" stage. The best restaurants strive for perfect _repeatable_ dishes, and no cook has to improvise with spices or ingredients on a normal shift.


A good cook/chef can take a look at an ingredient or set of ingredients and vary their techniques to produce that 'repeatable' dish.

I think you're completely discounting what cooking involves when it's someone with skill and experience, and that's unfortunate.


I'm just saying that the creativity usually is separated from the actual act of preparing a dish in a professional kitchen, robots or not. It lies in the receipt, good techniques, ingredient selection and sourcing. The creative part will always stay in the domain of skilled and experienced humans, no doubt about it.

Mastering a technique might mean constant adoption to changing ingredients and parameters, temperatures, timing etc. That is not fundamentally impossible to teach to a robot.

Massive knowledge, excellent sensory inputs of all kinds, precision motor skills etc are not creativity. Certainly there is a long way for robots to improve before they can handle what a human is able to. But I have no doubt that they will get there sooner or later.


that's for sure but there's no creativity

The last thing you want from your line chef is 'creativity'.


Robots making food will lower the cost of food, giving more people access to better nutrition. This will also free up labor and capital to do other things.

Machines helped make farming more productive so humans no longer have to live on farms, and dedicate their lives to the next meal on their table. If we were worried about jobs back then, we would've outlawed tractors and other machines. If we really want to create jobs, we would go back to manual labor to make produce our food.


I'm skeptical. This is painfully slow and handles 1 person at a time.

Any midtown/downtown NY salad bar can turnover 10 peoples' salads in the time this machine took to make 1. There's no way this machine's operating cost is better than that. Sure, you could scale up these machines, but then the human-staffed salad bars are winning on floor space (and rent). It looks like you could only fit 2-3 of these machines in the footprint of the average NY salad spot.

The only place this might win is where salad consumption is infrequent, in which case for food safety reasons, you probably don't want to be eating the salad there anyway.


> This will also free up labor ...

What a silly statement. There's already an excess of available labor.

> ...and capital to do other things.

What a nice, sugar-coated way of saying "This will make the rich get richer."

Of course, I probably sound like I'm against automation and I'm trying to save jobs, and I'm really not. But let's not pretend that lowering business costs helps anybody but the shareholders, and that creating unemployment is a GOOD thing.


That "freed up [food service] labor" was already at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to skill and pay. Where else would that "free" labor be readily applicable that they don't fall into reliance on social safety nets?


I don't think it will not lower the cost of food. In my opinion, the savings won't go towards pricing, they will go towards the owners' bank accounts (or shareholders). See Foxconn and the whole fleet of robots in their factories.


> This will also free up labor and capital to do other things.

Yes we definitely need more people on disability watching Maury


This does create the illusion of just in time salads, but how is it different from prepackaged salads? I assume such a machine in large sits in every salad factory.


Repeatable, reliable, easy customization options. This is a bigger thing for prompting return visits than it might seem at first glance — this is why people develop an affinity for, e.g. Starbucks; they develop a personalized product that they think of as part of their identity.


Configurability? I want that sald with this topping

Freshness? If the buisiness is preparing the vegetables in the kitchen before providing them to the machine then the salads might taste fresher than factory packaged salads >1 day old.


I'd want to know the "refresh" schedule for the ingredients. If the machine gets new veg every Tuesday then that's the best day for a really fresh salad. I would hope the location is high enough traffic to justify daily ingredient changes.


I think the customization aspect is overrated. In a blind taste test I bet prepackaged salads and hand made ones would fare about as well. Just like how cheap and expensive wine are indistinguishable under a blindfold. And that's what's so funny about this story. Two hundred years ago all salads were hand made. Then we invented machines to automate it. But then automated food got a somewhat arbitrary and unjustified stigma about it, which allowed for hand made salads to become a thing again. Similar to how an artificial social stigma was constructed against "fake" furr, in preference to animal furr. There is virtually no visual difference, but rich people wanted to maintain the signaling-value of the more expensive "real" furr and did so by sneering at the cheap-to-manufacture fake stuff, which propagated out in the rest of society in the form of adverts and the like.

And of course the same thing will happen here too. Now robots can make "hand made" caesar salads. But eventually the same social constructions will be created against that and in preference to man-made "hand crafted" caesar salads. Under a blind taste test man-made and robot-made foods will be indistinguishable but without the blindfold there will be enough culture and clever rethoric created to trick the senses, and we'll be back to where we were a few years ago.


I wonder how many technology things are the shiny appearance of magic ontop of the old and mundane.

I guess we should look at any New Thing, and say, what existing boring thing is this really?


Yes. All the jobs. Drivers, luggage handlers. The salad cook is just another in the long line of manual jobs that can be done quicker, better, cheaper by a robot. So now what? What job do we guide our children into? What jobs are left as the fall through for kids who decline formal training? I don't know, but we need to answer that question quickly.


Is it the question we should ask?

I'd prefer to ask another question: is it time to change our society, to go away from paid jobs? A job is one of the things that currently defines us, one of the first questions you ask someone you just met is often to know what job they are in.

If all jobs were automated, we could have more interesting occupations: taking care of our childrens, elders, neighbors, growing our garden, reading, art, etc. Many sci-fi authors saw the job being automated and society changing toward this. The question is how to we make the transition.


Keep in mind that the transition wont be from black to white or visa versa.. We're talking about a gradual change over a decade and a half a least. In the meantime there will be an uptake in jobs that support this type of automation.. physically building the thing, building the digital experience(Design, UX, Backend architecture, process, branding) as well as ancillary jobs like IT support, installation, IT, legal, union, whatever.

It will be less drastic than people anticipate, as always with automation/ai. Different jobs will become more available and (hopefully) the value of those jobs will increase. Manual/tedious jobs that used to be considered low-brow will hopefully become "artisanal" or appreciated, and fill the gap.

A butcher used to be a respectable profession that would earn an honest days living. Maybe now, instead of a butcher working for his employer (with a cashier, accountant, manager, sales person), they will operate as their own employer. Other micro-focused based companies will handle the other needs for a fraction of the cost.

In the end, efficiency prevails with capitalism and tech in general.. Having a population with a low work force seems both inefficient and impractical. Life will find a way...


For a realist, the question is whether people with power benefit from your proposed change, or whether they are invested in the current system. If the system doesn't change, then robots may be detrimental.


> The salad cook is just another in the long line of manual jobs that can be done quicker, better, cheaper by a robot.

Allow me to be sentimental for a moment. I agree that some jobs, perhaps even most, can be done "better" by a robot. At least, if we're defining better as more cheaply or "to spec". However, when I go to a nice restaurant, I go because I enjoy the Chef's style, their ability to express their art through cooking. Sure, a robot could do something like that, especially at chains like Burger King, but for my personal incentive to dine at a restaurant, it's unlikely a robot could do a "better" job than a human chef.

That said, you're right, we need to avoid the foolishness of passing the buck when asking "what will our children do?" We can't agree on social issues now, how the hell will we agree when even more people are unable to contribute meaningfully?


People will prefer meals cooked by robots for the same reason they listen to recorded music. Everyone will have access to the best creations of the best chefs, instead of today where the closest you can get is watching them cook on tv. It will be a new media where artists can directly share their work with the world.


Most people enjoy recorded music, but most people also like to see their favorite artists live, when they can. I think it's the same thing.


> but most people also like to see their favorite artists live, when they can

Citation needed. Live music is a healthy economy, but I am not sure a majority of listeners of a given artist are particularly driven to go to that artist's concerts. I suspect only a passionate minority is interested.


It's still enough to support an extremely healthy global live-music industry. I don't see handmade food being different.


Here's an alternative perspective to consider: what if the artistry is in the design of the dishes, and the automated systems could be used for implementing that design. That could lead to good food being cheaper and more accessible to more people.


In the future, we will probably download food designs from a food app store, and use our food printer to fabricate the food.


I go because I enjoy the Chef's style, their ability to express their art through cooking.

Even at many restaurants today the person who's name is above the door as it where rarely touches the food. So as long as that person is the one who is responsible for designing the recipes and menus and plating what difference does it really make if the dish you are served was prepared by a robot or whatever line chef happened to be on duty that day?


I think there will still be professional chefs for a long, long time, for all the reasons you give, and I'm fine with that. But short-order cooks and burger-flippers could be replaced without any loss to the culture--assuming that we can find a way for those people to live happily without needing to prove their worthiness through labor.


So the maybe 10% of people who fetishize artisanry will still create demand for service jobs. But this is an edge case.


Also, maybe 10% of chefs view their work as art, rather than as a way to earn money.


That number is probably less than 1%, those stories about chefs being so inspired by ingredients and just wanting to share that vision with the world are written by marketers.


Someone's going to have to clean all those robots, top up their various fluids, and patch their firmware until some startup bros in Silicon Valley disrupt that market too.


> What jobs are left as the fall through for kids who decline formal training?

Robot cleaners, maintenance, etc... I highly doubt we will have a fully automated robot loop that takes care of themselves anytime soon, so there's always going to be a need for humans in the chain.


Well yeah, but we reach a point where we don't have a job available to say, 30% of the potential workforce. I don't think robot maintenance will be the next retail or warehouse employee.


We made the transition from subsistence agriculture to now. 90%+ of the population used to tend crops.


Exactly. Funny how most people seem to completely forget that little detail of recent history.


What matters is if there is anything to transition to.

A strong argument is made that the options for new jobs are rapidly diminishing, as automation eliminates jobs by skill level, while at the same time the economy is not giving people time to retrain (people most imperilled by automation are usually those living paycheck-to-paycheck). Those two things were not simultaneously true in the past.


> What matters is if there is anything to transition to.

There will always be something to transition to. It's not because we cannot imagine it that it means there is nothing ahead of us. Like 75% of the jobs people have nowadays did not exist 100 years ago, and nobody at that time could have imagined them.


Eventually, maybe. That still doesn't solve the immediate problem: jobs are beginning to disappear now, there's no replacement in sight, and the economy doesn't allow for the need to retrain mass amounts of people. This is a recipe for disaster (the bloody kind).


The massively disruptive translation that completely overthrew the existing social orders worldwide, allowing a few small European nations to conquer most of the world and force an unwanted drugs trade on what had, for several thousand years previously, been the world superpower? The transition which directly to the rise of both communism and capitalism as viable nation-scale forms of government?

Sure, humans will go on (unless we nuke outselves), but that doesn’t mean it will be easy or fun to live through if we just presume it’ll all be fine.


That's mainly because the rate of change is far greater. Will need to get used to it though.


Few people are guiding their kids to be salad cooks. But for cooks, this is probably good news. If they can do their jobs more efficiently, there should be more restaurants, and more jobs.


Robot repairperson.

I hear the stand-in-line-as-a-service industry is growing as well. Anyone with a lot of free time can get paid to stand in line. It’s great! Who wouldn’t want such a bright future?


Do you think the average salesperson would be willing to sell an item to a telepresence robot carrying a credit card? If so, I'm not sure the waiting-in-line industry will survive much longer either.


By definition, all labor-saving technology costs jobs. That is, unless you do something to compensate for it, like produce more total stuff than you used to. And, of course, more total stuff will only get made if people are willing to spend more money to buy the additional stuff.

There's only a problem if we're expecting people to get that money from... wait for it... jobs. So let's lower interest rates and make it easier for everyone to borrow money. That will boost spending and create jobs! What could possibly go wrong?


I predict that once a machine is invented that can automatically make a coffee, anyone employed making coffee will lose their jobs too.


Maybe this particular robot won't cost jobs (though I have doubts about that, but we'll grant it) but other robots will. I don't understand how there's even a sort-of discussion between the author and their audience about "Do robots cost jobs" of course they bloody do, that's the point, those robots are sold to the businesses that buy them on the idea that they're going to reduce labor costs, that's the point. Restaurants have been serving us filthy salads out of bars for decades, do you think they suddenly had an attack of conscience about it? Of course not, having that machine means a whole host of things the employees don't have to do, that's why they bought it. It may not cost anyone a job right now, but it will be contributing to that down the line.


Of course all of these robots will cost jobs. I’m reading “The Grapes of Wrath” right now, and it all happened before, except back then it was not robots, but tractors. Lots of people were flung into direst poverty imaginable, some died, some saw their kids die of malnutrition, which, IMO, is worse. It’ll be the exact same shit this time around except a lot more people will be affected, but fewer will die.


Ummmmm, that's not a "mean" caesar salad. It's competitive with a supermarket premade but doesn't compare to a restaurant or homemade caesar salad.

This isn't any different than a vending machine or those coke dispensers with a touch screen flavour picker.

The real job loss will be when this is a real robot that is fresh tearing the romaine and whisking the dressing after you press the buttons and delivering an actual caesar salad.


Not disagreeing on the perceived quality of this salad...but does that really change the issue at hand?

I would think that while it may be challenging, I don't see it as unthinkable that we could have a robot tear leaves of romaine and spinning a whisk.


Right. But this machine is functionally equivalent to a coffee vending machine: punch espresso drink, medium, cappuccino and put your cup under the nozzle. Those machines haven't replaced anybody at Starbucks -- they simply made the lives of the receptionist at my Toyota Dealership easier.

These examples need to be game changers to convince people, a fancy vending machine isn't going to scare anybody.

A replacement fry cook, sous chef or truck driver will.


Automation replaces manual labor. As labor becomes more expensive and automated processes become more affordable, you'll see a shift in the food industry from basic labor to skilled labor (those who will develop and maintain the automated processes).


Okay but that might be a little simplistic, because automation can also complement manual labor and create more demand for it.

The example that comes to mind is about ATMs and bank teller jobs: when ATMs were introduced it actually increased the number of teller jobs because branch offices became cheaper and banks opened more of them.

Discussed in:

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2016/05/james_bessen_on.htm...


I feel like they took the salad bar and made it more complicated - the only real advantage I see is it might be more sanitary. It's certainly slower if there's a line of people waiting for their food.


How about instead of a robot to serve salads we make a robot that can probe for contamination?

E-coli, listeria, and other nasty bacteria and viruses like hepatitis are no joke, yet most places have zero tools to test for those things.


Instead of the 1000s words, I wished there was a picture of the f* salad


Until self check-out becomes faster and less obnoxious than having a skilled cashier do the job faster I don't think we need to worry at a large scale. We aren't going to be talking to robot waiters any time soon. If Carl's Jr. puts a glorified soda machine as my fast food interface I'll go to McDonald's where I can give my order in 10 seconds instead of fumbling with a machine for 2 minutes.


All the local McDonald's here have installed self-ordering kiosks. They're fast and seem very popular. I personally find it significantly easier and faster than waiting in line and talking to an actual human. (And this is coming from someone who hates self-checkout lines at grocery stores.)

> We aren't going to be talking to robot waiters any time soon.

Robot waiters? Probably not. But using our phones to order delivery, self-ordering kiosks, ipads on tables? The future is already here, and it's increasingly automated. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the latest employment numbers show a sharp dip in the employment among food service employees.)


> All the local McDonald's here have installed self-ordering kiosks. They're fast and seem very popular. I personally find it significantly easier and faster than waiting in line and talking to an actual human. (And this is coming from someone who hates self-checkout lines at grocery stores.)

I have had fast-food workers mess up my order so many times that I'd rather just give it to a machine.

There are few things more annoying than taking my food to the table, seeing something on it that shouldn't be, walking back to the counter, saying "Excuse me, I asked for no lettuce or tomato", and waiting for them to re-make it.


I agree. It can also go the other way though. I sometimes order almond milk from Starbucks. If I give the order to a human I can make some judgement as to whether they have misunderstood and correct them, or outright ask them to confirm their understanding. If I give the order to the app then the app understands perfectly but I will have to sort out any subsequent human misunderstanding after it's been made. My local branch have got it wrong twice in 5 attempts via the app (they tend to assume I want coffee with almond milk because what crazy person just wants almond milk)


YMMV. I was not impressed by the machine - it presented way too many choices and didn't promote the UI to make the process easier than speaking to a human, in my view.

Maybe after about 10 times when you've "learned the menu" you might find it easier.


I'd LOVE an automated kiosk (or even person) that let me specify some numeric encoding of my entire order.

I always order the same thing at In-n-Out, for example, and would love to say, "Give me a 557-343-901-043" -- or better yet, scan a QR code that had what I want to order. And they have just about the simplest menu ever! (one reason I love them) If I could do that at other fast food restaurants, or Starbucks, where you might want to order the same Very Specific thing, without having to go through the tedium of explaining it or entering it into a kiosk / web form every time, I bet it would be a huge thing.

I will be surprised if Starbucks doesn't let you do this already, or isn't working on it.


I think the solution there is actual mobile apps, that can have an order history for you, a re-order last order button, etc. Just pull open your phone, make your order, and walk in store to pick it up.

I make the same order every time at my local burger chain, but I make it using an app from my desk, scheduled to be ready by the time I get to the store. Literally the best solution from my point of view.

This is also (coincidentally!) the product the company I work for offers. :)


Why not just do what Taco Bell does and have a mobile app for (re)ordering stuff? You can even order ahead of time and just have it ready for pickup/dine-in.


If you are talking about fast food, I would opt for self checkout so that I can place my order in 10 seconds instead of waiting 2 min for a cachier to fumble with the machine. (or miss understand me, or punch it in wrong, or whatever) Grant it, not all cachiers are terrible but consistency in fast food sells, and machines are consistent.


> We aren't going to be talking to robot waiters any time soon.

Nope, but in Japan in some cheap sushi joints, you can order your sushi on a tablet, and it is delivered to you via an automatic tray which knows exactly your seating location. No need to having "robot waiters" going around.


If Carl's Jr. puts a glorified soda machine as my fast food interface...

Idiocracy has it right again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW-4LU79qbU

I think lots of automation will exist and already does in our economy in manufacturing, technology and many areas. However some automation isn't as desired by the consumer directly and ends up making more work like this salad bot.

First off, unless it is self cleaning it seems like it will take at least one attendant to refill and clean it.

Secondly, it looks like a food poisoning haven as lettuce is many times the culprit there.

Next, it looks like it will waste tons of product, which will be left in multiple days and goes back to the food poising or general bad ingredients.

The maintenance, cleaning, inventory/ingredient management and more make this probably not that great of an idea unless it is pumping out salads in a factory, as a vending machine it seems to be automation just to automate. I personally would not want a salad out of a vending machine.

Kiosk ordering is something that automation is probably good for, making the salad though on demand? Probably not.


i love automation. there is something to be said for automated food. not only can money and time be saved, but there are other benefits as well. for example, storing the raw ingredients in your home can allow you to stockpile food for much longer than you could if you only bought the finished product. i have several food grade buckets filled with whole wheat flour and i enjoy freshly baked bread almost every day. with a few gamma lids (screw-top lid accessory for standard 5 gallon food grade buckets), and about 10% of my (normal sized) freezer space, i am able to eat fresh bread every day for five months without ever going to the store. with a bread machine, making the bread only requires a few seconds of my time. and the savings are unreal. perhaps im a little odd, but i would very much like to have some kind of system in my home where i could buy non-perishable food stuffs and store them in mass quantity, and simply press a button to turn them into a meal ready to eat.


A domestic robot is probably as big of a market as self driving cars. Not that this is close. But a robot that would clean, wash, iron, prepare food, do some basic plumbing and painting, replace bulbs, receive parcels, yell at the dog if it misbehaves, etc... I start to think that I will own one in my lifetime.


This isn't so much a robot, as a motorised hopper that just dispenses the thing the operator asks for.


Oh, great. Juicero but for salads.


General robot job replacement related issues aside, this robot only holds enough for 50 salads and, based on the video, seems painfully slow. It doesn't seem ready for a lunchtime rush.


Sometimes automation is about taking the difficult, time-consuming, manual parts of a process and making them faster and easier, which saves time and less time=less jobs=article in NYT.

And sometimes automation is about taking the easiest, lowest skill part of a process and making it slower and more difficult, which somehow still results in an NYT article.

I mean all it does is assemble the freaking salads from pre-chopped ingredients. That's it. That's the _easiest_ part of preparing a salad.


Does anyone else think it's utterly annoying I can not pause the video (or gif) or whatever it is? I can't even skip forward. What is this, NYT?


That was painful. It is one of those things that you can't just stop watching (I was expecting Sally to spin the salad) and I waited..and waited...waited.

Horrible user experience.

  - Can't tell how long the clip/gif is
  - Can't skip ahead
  - Can't go fullscreen
  - No sound
WTF.


Is it just me or does reading what basically boils down to "Don't go outside, eat this premade salad and 'boost your productivity'" sound somewhat depressing? I don't think that being inside all day eating low quality food under fluorescent lights is going to boost my productivity at all. I would honestly want to go to a restaurant and get an actual salad at lunch.


I don't think there is any easy fix for this. The capital is only interested in building robots if they save human labor costs. If they save human labor only to pay those same costs in taxes for basic income then they should have invested in something else.

For the most part, the deployment of capital into robots can only happen if it is going to displace people.


If there is a tax (I believe there should be) on automation then my opinion is that it should be based on the profit and reduced by the percentage of 'traditional' (role specific) job hours that remain; counting service personnel the same as bus-boys/janitorial services.

If the profit is under a given percentage then there shouldn't be any tax assessed.


How much are you personally willing to pay in tax for your refrigerator/freezer, your dishwashing machine, and your laundry machines?


This is a good question, but I suspect it's disingenuously framed, so as to stymie your parent.

If she says "a lot", you reply "good luck to you, and you alone". If she replies "very little", you say "right, so your tax is going nowhere."

Feels like possibly you are defending a local maximum.


Or if the revenue is under a given value. "Small businesses" shouldn't have to deal with that kind of regulation. I would say number of employees under a certain number, but that's kind of the point, right?

I still think a simple progressive tax is better overall (no loopholes or additional taxes). If you can make mad cash efficiently, great, as long as you can't put on an "oil company" hat and avoid paying taxes on those profits.


I'd bet my lease gets reviewed by an AI before I eat a robot-cooked meal.

Food is variable and dirty and the downside risk of not being clean is pretty bad, even acknowledging that robots will always wash their hands.

Maintenance, risk, and general exposure to meatspace, in every sense, means that knowledge workers will probably be the first to be automated out of a job.


Unless you just eat stuff grown by you or very small-scale farmers, robots are already touching your food. From the combine harvester that picks it up, to the conveyor belt where it's selected, cut, washed and pre-cooked [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC32345D87EF2F305


Sure, but it's the difference between power and complete automation. A "robot" washes my clothes, but folding my clothes reliably is beyond the state of the art as of now. I suspect robot chefs might be on that level of difficulty, plus they would have to keep a very general purpose arm clean. Meanwhile automated translation, which is a very difficult problem, has good-enough automation.


I don't really agree. Ultimately making food is an extremely repetitive process (at least for fast food) and that's where AI excels.

I think that if the robot is really transparent and there's a human inspecting, then people will be willing to live with it.

Reviewing your lease could be tricky because it could involve lots of external variables, cultural differences, changes over time, interactions with the law, and so on.


Your lease being reviewed... if you mean by some kind of robot lawyer then I doubt it. Lawyers have the best trade union and have successfully resisted the Walmartization of their trade for decades and I can't see that changing in the US at least.


What if the robot runs out of disinfectant and nobody notices or cares?

Robots are only as clean as the company that owns and inspects them permits them to be.


What if employees at a restaurant run out of disinfectant or doesn't wash their hands after visiting the restroom? What if no one notices or cares? :)


An employee might be so disgusted by this they blow the whistle on the place and get it inspected.

A robot can't and won't do this.


Giving the robot a disinfectant-level sensor, delivering an alert when it's low and refusing to operate if it can't do so cleanly, would be trivial compared to the rest of the endeavor, and will probably be required the FDA or equivalent, eventually.


Yes, because no mechanical parts have ever malfunctioned, ever.


Do you trust minimum-wage teens to follow procedure to the letter every time? In this arena at least, I feel like it's a wash between malfunctioning robots and stressed-out, underpaid workers.


I feel like they're more inclined to snitch if things get bad. Machines don't do that.


I've worked retail before, and I'd bet money on a machine running perfectly forever before a fast food employee blowing the whistle on a dirty kitchen.


Automate all the things and free up time for humanity to finish making AI maybe we can leave this rock in some form or another.


Humanity isn't unfree because of there's too much work to do, but because too much wealth is going to those who already have it. Automation, as we employ it, will seal the deal and remove most people along with the need (from the perspective of exploitation) for them. It will transform police states into what will be like solid steel to cotton candy.

Also, leave this rock? It's the lushest place we know so far, by far, in a universe filled with millions of rocks. If we can't make it here, we can't make it anywhere else.

Not that AI has anything to do with that, or anything we do with AI. But the chorus of non-sequiturs will keep on rising, and as the emperor, now dancing seductive-esque, drops the last item of clothing, the buzzword singularity will have arrived. A way to murder billions and call it the lesser of two evils, carefully framed, will be found, too.


There is a misconception that the list of tasks that we need humans to work on is roughly equal to the number of humans that we currently have available. Instead, I think if we eliminated many of the current tasks from our global priority queue (such as chopping salads) then we will soon discover new tasks.


Robots can't taste. Something that no one really wants to take on for a number of reasons the first being that we haven't a clue how it works. Variables in a Caesar Salad occupy wide spreads. Blending taste is still an art that most Chefs have trouble achieving as will the machine intelligence that conquers taste. Wondering how machine intelligence will handle hunger pangs caused by the sudden thought of a Caesar Salad, ensconced with Pain au Levain Croutons, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and salted Anchovies on the side. Even the selection of the right sea salt affects the outcome of this wonderful concoction not to mention what mustard and Worcestershire Sauce is best used. The other problem stems from the camaraderie that such a meal requires (haven't even got to the wine pairing yet) to be wholly satisfying. Some people have problems with the origin of the language that really counts as in "companion" - stems from "one whom with you break bread with"...,


I think you're romanticizing the concept of food preparation a bit much. You don't need to be able to taste, or feel hunger, to cook a good meal or choose a wine. I fully expect that a machine could not only do so, but ultimately do so more consistently than any but the most skilled of humans.


I fear such a thing would lead to Starbucksization of food and beverage production. As mentioned in plenty of other comments here, Starbucks baristas mostly just push a button to get a shot of espresso from one of their machines. They optimize for consistency and "good enough" - and indeed the machine pulls the same shot, every time, from beans which are over-roasted for consistency and good enough for mass consumption and a predictable experience across thousands of stores.

But that isn't what makes food and drink interesting. I enjoy going to a place because they pull a particularly great espresso shot and use it to prepare a macchiato in a way that I like according to proportions of milk and espresso that I think taste best... or a bar which has a particularly great wine collection according to my tastes... or a restaurant which has a fun twist on on a french classic which I like more than the original. Of course, each of these establishments could have a custom version of whatever algorithm you're envisioning which picks the perfect wines, pulls the perfect espresso shots, or prepares the perfect meal - but will they? Or will the platform that enables such extreme automation also enable such extreme commodification, like Starbucks vs a boutique coffee shop? I think it would.


I feel like you're talking about an experience that precisely emerged from the Starbucksization of food and beverage production.

Where I come from, staff in cafés would kill to make a consistent coffee every time (and they mostly do) but they're stuck with old machinery. But now that Starbucks has delivered that, customers want to go back to an authentic experience that really has never existed.

The same thing will happen to food i.e most people would love to have decent restaurant meals delivered at a really low price. The fact that some people will try to taste gourmet food prepared by real chefs is rather irrelevant to say the least...


A machine doesn't have to optimize only for "good enough" or "burnt"; it optimizes for whatever parameters it was given. If there's a trick to "pull a particularly great espresso shot", then you can build a machine to do that. It's not even particularly hard, compared to, say, keeping up an intelligent conversation, doing laundry, or any number of other harder-to-automate tasks.


Of course - but people are going to control those machines, and the people who control the machines probably aren't going to be the people who (in another version of history where automation didn't take over) would be operating them with care out of personal passion.

In our Starbucks example - they also own Clover, the boutique automatic single-serve coffee brewer. It's a brilliant machine and makes a great cup of coffee. But it's artificially only available in certain markets, with certain collections of their own branded roasts. The macinery could be programmed to allow me to get a great cup of coffee at any Starbucks in America, but business incentives don't allow that (presumably - because Clovers are rare machines reserved for special store in major markets). Comiditization entails more than just automating the product and making things consistent and widely available. It also typically changes the incentives of the game and the people who are overseeing implementing them.


These machines aren't designed for foodies - they're designed to serve the rest of the populace that wants a decent, healthy meal at a reasonable price. That the machines try to appeal to foodies is just the side effects of marketing, in an attempt to provide some snob appeal to people who aren't true foodies.

There's always going to be a need for human food preparers, be they chef or cook, as foodies will seek unique experiences that cannot be provided in the large quantities that machines are designed to satisfy.

In short, don't worry about it.


If there is one thing that a robot can do more consistently and better than a human is tossing salad using pre-sorted ingredients.

However, figuring out what makes a delicious recipe is something machines can't do. yet.


Having machines come up with delicious recipes isn't that far off: https://www.amazon.com/Cognitive-Cooking-Chef-Watson-Innovat...


Allow me: this salad tastes bland and tired and needs a strong dressing to make it palatable.

The veggies are pre cut - so they spend even longer dying and drying than freshly prepared.

There will be more waste - those pre-cut veggies won't last as long.


This might cost some jobs but not very many. There have been all kinds of automated food solutions in existence for many decades. They serve a niche in the market for people that just want to grab and eat something quickly. But most people prefer the experience of having humans create and serve their food when they go to a restaurant.


most people prefer the experience of having humans create and serve their food when they go to a restaurant.

Serve sure, but how many people care about what goes on beyond the closed doors of the restaurant kitchen as long as food is up to standard. Would you really care if your steak was 'hand fried' by a line chef or fired by some kind of meat frying robot as long as it was of high quality done to your liking.

The 'problem' however (at least short term) is that line chefs are pretty cheap and advanced robots are pretty expensive.


Interestingly, this breaks Betteridge's law by giving an indeterminate response instead of the negative.


To save others a seaerch: From Wikipedia -- Betteridge's law of headlines is one name for an adage that states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist, although the principle is much older. As with similar "laws" (e.g., Murphy's law), it is intended as a humorous adage rather than the literal truth.


> is aimed at reducing the risk of food-borne illness

Given it's sell is solving a problem that doesn't need solving I'm guessing it was made to be cheaper but it's not hence the pivot.


> Salad bars are magnets for bacteria and viruses. Even if the sprouts and ranch dressing aren’t tainted, the serving utensils may be. The Silicon Valley start-up Chowbotics has devised what it says is a partial solution.

A solution to what? What exactly is the problem? Just because bacteria (and "viruses"? really?) may or may not be found in salad bars doesn't make it an emergency. Exactly how many people get sick, or die, because they ate at a salad bar?

It seems the problem is invented to justify the product.


Let's replace "salad" with "burrito" and just look at Chipotle in isolation...

* In March and April 2008, 22 customers were infected with hepatitis A from a Chipotle restaurant in California.

* In April 2008, over 400 people were infected with norovirus from a Chipotle restaurant in Ohio.

* In February 2009, an outbreak of campylobacteriosis was traced to a Chipotle restaurant in Minnesota.

* In July 2015, five people were infected with E. coli traced back to a Chipotle restaurant in Seattle, Washington.

* In August 2015 nearly 100 people were infected with norovirus from a Chipotle restaurant in Califorina.

* In August 2015, 64 people were infected with Salmonella traced back to Chipotle restaurants in the Minneapolis area.

* In October 2015, 52 people were infected with E. coli traced back to Chipotle restaurants, with 20 requiring hospitalization.

* In November 2015, 5 people were infected with E. coli traced back to Chipotle restaurants in Oklahoma and Kansas.

* In December 2015, ultimately 141 people (80 directly) in Massachusetts were infected with norovirus traced back to a Boston, Massachusetts area Chipotle restaurant.

* In July 2017, more than 130 people were infected with norovirus traced back to a Chiptole restaurant in Virginia.


A lot of this can be chalked up to Chipotle's insistence on using organic food, which is far more prone to disease than non-organic.

(adding to your list, a Chipotle in Downtown Dallas was found to be infested with rats a few months ago... it was discovered when the rats started falling through the ceiling)


There was a case in Germany a couple of years ago, a relatively large number of people got a very deadly and rare bacterial infection. The cases were distributed all over the country. In the end it turned out that the origin was contaminated sprouts from one sprout factory. This robot only eliminates one part of the risk.


Having had a case of food poisoning of a level where my kidneys were near the point of shutting down before I got treatment, I'm all for any new approaches that can reduce the chances of tranmission.




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