Pandemic Wave of Automation May Be Bad News for Workers

When Kroger customers in Cincinnati shop online these days, their groceries may be picked out not by a worker in their local supermarket but by a robot in a nearby warehouse.

Gamers at Dave & Buster’s in Dallas who want pretzel dogs can order and pay from their phones — no need to flag down a waiter.

And in the drive-through lane at Checkers near Atlanta, requests for Big Buford burgers and Mother Cruncher chicken sandwiches may be fielded not by a cashier in a headset, but by a voice-recognition algorithm.

An increase in automation, especially in service industries, may prove to be an economic legacy of the pandemic. Businesses from factories to fast-food outlets to hotels turned to technology last year to keep operations running amid social distancing requirements and contagion fears. Now the outbreak is ebbing in the United States, but the difficulty in hiring workers — at least at the wages that employers are used to paying — is providing new momentum for automation.

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Source: Ben Casselman, the New York Times