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Former McDonald's CEO Predicts Minimum-Wage Workers Will Soon Be Replaced by Robots

Ed Rensi argued that workers need some form of protection in an increasingly hostile industry. Conversation turned to the proposed $15 minimum wage, and Rensi warned that the increase would lead to massive layoffs because work could become automated.
May 27, 2016, 10:00am
Foto via Flickr-brugeren Aneil Lutchman

In the future when we are mercilessly hunted by our robot overlords, we'll only have ourselves to blame. First, companies didn't want to pay for phone operators, so we got automated customer service menus. Then, no one wanted to interact with a human being on a phone at all, so we got Seamless. Now we've got Siri and robot waiters in China, and even a former CEO of McDonald's is warning of a possible robot revolution to come.

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Speaking with Fox Business Network about—what else—Donald Trump, Ed Rensi argued that workers need some form of protection in an increasingly hostile industry. Conversation turned to the proposed $15 minimum wage, and Rensi warned that the increase would lead to massive layoffs. Hell, at that price, you could buy a dang robot to do the job instead.

"I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday and if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry, it's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who's inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries. 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," Rensi said.

Rensi sees a larger Democratic conspiracy behind the whole minimum wage push, which, by the way, he says would keep people on the government dole.

READ MORE: The CEO of Carl's Jr. Wants to Replace His Workers with Robots

But robot workers aren't always what they're cracked up to be. In China, where robot waiters seemed poised to take over the floor, one restaurant had to fire its robot workers for being unable to do simple tasks like pour hot water. Nevertheless, Pizza Hut is in on the action now, with a robot waiter at one of its stores.

And some McDonald's locations are already experimenting with ordering kiosks, getting rid of pesky living, breathing humans that need things like "health care" and "wages." If there were a robot takeover of the kitchen and at the counter, the line between what constitutes a restaurant and an elaborate vending machine starts to be blurred.

And though Rensi was warning against a scenario, it does seem inevitable that ever more tasks performed by employees will be automated. There are already robot bartenders and robots that can make crab bisque out there, so fries shouldn't be a problem.

READ MORE: Robots Cooked and Served My Dinner

But as Rensi cautions, maybe the whole robots-in-the-kitchen-movement should slow down. When a robot is entrusted to control the fries, they can withhold the fries. That sounds like a dark future and a path that is best avoided.