In this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn explores how robotics and AI have been around a long time. The pessimistic view, and the optimistic view have their points. But only one is really correct.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo here once again, your host for this edition of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m an entrepreneur in California. It’s wonderful to be back again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey, Rob. Good to be with you again.
Rob Artigo: Well, the other day, I saw a story online about a restaurant outside of Portland that hasn’t been able to staff the restaurant. This owner, a woman, went to this services convention, a restaurant convention somewhere, didn’t say where, and then she leased a robot she saw that was on display there.
Rob Artigo Cont: The robot delivers food to the table. It looks like it buses the food to the table. There’s a tray. It’s rolling around like R2D2 and it has a tray. And then, goes over to the table and then the people reach over, grab their plates and put the plates on the table.
That’s the robot. Has a name and I couldn’t find the story to tell you the name. It’s Cookie or Nacho or some kind of thing like that. It rolls up, presents the food, they take the food off. Needless to say, this is way beyond, you and I were talking the other day about paying at the kiosk and not talking to the person at the counter at all. What do you think, Ray, the reaction was and has been to this robot at this restaurant?
Ray Zinn: Well, I don’t know. I didn’t read the article. As long as the robot was friendly, I guess it came across okay. The robot, unless it lifts the tray up, or your meal up, and puts it in front of you, you have to reach over and grab it. That’s different than in a restaurant. They don’t roll a tray up and then you reach over and grab off the tray. They actually will place the food in front of you.
I’m not sure how it was received. Maybe it’ll take some time because we’ve all been used to the restaurant actually putting the food in front of us. Of course, the fast food places, I guess you walk up to the counter, pay your money and you take the tray with you. I don’t know that there’s a huge difference between that and a robot coming over and dumping it off on your table.
Rob Artigo: Well, according to this story, the reaction was mixed. Some people love it. Some people actually thought it was very interesting. Some people hated it because it takes jobs away, according to them. But that’s the rub. Because in this particular story, the employer didn’t have much of a choice because she couldn’t afford … The minimum wage in Oregon is pushing 15 an hour, and she’s having a problem getting people to the job because of a long commute time, about 30 minutes outside of Portland. She also has a hard time paying the high minimum wage because of all the high food costs right now. I imagine inflation has really put a pinch on the food costs, and restaurateurs are trying to find alternatives. This opened the door for her and she actually had some people say, “I’m not going back there because it’s taking a job away from a person.”
Ray Zinn: Well, you’re going to find that. You’re going to find that in every industry. Whenever there is an issue, people, you take a job away. The buggy whip industry hated the horseless carriage, which was the car, because it took a lot of jobs away from people in the buggy whip industry or the buggy industry itself, or the horse industry. When the car came along, or when the railroad came, it knocked out the stage coaches. Wherever there was railroad access, that was the way in which goods and services and transportation came to the various areas was through the railroad. They hated it because it took jobs away from the stage coach drivers and the people that made stage coaches. Anytime you have some automation, it is going to take a job away.
They’re going to come up with ways to automatically build houses through robotics. I’m seeing tools coming out now that are highly robotic that help the builder build a home. I can conceive in the not too distant future that a home can be completely constructed by robotics, as opposed to having to use labor to do it. Now, anytime we get improvement like that, whether it be a car or train or medicine, or a restaurant or whatever, that is going to cause an issue. There’s going to be displacement. But there are jobs available, or will become available, for people to build these robotics, to build these special devices that took away their prior job. There’s always the pros and the cons to robotics.
Rob Artigo: Well, let’s take this thing as a whole. Let’s go with robotics and AI. We did a podcast fairly recently about AI and covered some of this ground. But you put those two together, robotics and AI, there’s always more to cover in the area of AI. You add in robotics and it becomes an even bigger deal because we’re seeing crazy advancements in robotics. Do you think it’s true that we are on the verge of the largest ever displacement of unskilled labor in the history of the planet?
Ray Zinn: I don’t know. It’s hard to say, Rob. Because robotics, or automation, let’s not call it robotics. Let’s call it automation. AI is artificial intelligence. That’s what AI stands for. That’s been with us probably since Adam Smith, division of laborers, back in the 1700s. That goes back to what? 300 or so years.
Rob Artigo: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: Artificial intelligence has been with us, probably I’ll say, from the beginning of time. Anytime we have something that can assist us in an artificial way, meaning without requiring human intervention, that’s what really artificial intelligence is, is performing a function without human intervention. Of course, with more and more technology, we’re going to see more and more functions that will be adopted by machines that can do things without human intervention. Again, like that robot that delivers your food from the kitchen to your table.
But how about the automated vacuum cleaner? I was at a store just last week actually and here, this machine was coming down the aisle and it was vacuuming the floor. I reached over to grab something off the shelf and it stopped. It immediately stopped. It didn’t try to go around me. It stopped and then put the item in my shopping basket, and the machine kept going. It made a little funny sound, like a little musical sound, so that you knew it was coming.
But the entire store now, at least the place I was shopping, the entire store is being done with robotics, with an automatic vacuum cleaner. That, obviously, took away from somebody who did that by hand. It was either vacuuming by hand or mopping the floor or whatever. This thing not only vacuums, then also mops the floor at the same time. It could clean up waste. If somebody drops a bottle on the floor and it breaks and spills the contents onto the floor, this machine can go over and clean it up.
It has to be programmed by somebody or directed by somebody, but it will go over and do it. You don’t need somebody to go physically with a broom and a basket, or some kind of a pickup device to scrape it off the floor or sweep it off the floor. It’ll do it. It’s all done automatically now. Airport terminals, all that vacuuming done is done by automation now.
Rob Artigo: Sometimes, we go over to the Veterans Administration medical facility in the area here. For years, they’ve had a robot that rolls down the hallway and it has samples, or delivering either documents or samples of things in a locked cabinet down the hallway. And then, it announces when it’s crossing intersections of hallways and pauses for a second. I saw one time where two of these things were next to each other, one wanted to get through a door, but had to wait for somebody to come over and open the door.
The other one had to stop and wait for that other robot to move. It was kind of comical, but in reality, that’s really old school robotics compared to what’s going on right now. I wonder about what they call special purpose robots. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but is that the kind of thing when they’re talking about what you mentioned about building houses, or is it a situation where you got machines building machines?
Ray Zinn: Well, let’s take the biggest example that we can all relate to, and that is purchasing online. With Amazon now, purchasing online is knocking out a lot of stores, like Staples and Home Depot and Lowe’s and some of the clothing stores, shoe stores. Buying online now, it seems to be more prevalent than I’ve ever seen it before. But when you buy online, you are really getting rid of a lot of local retail stores because they just can’t compete with the online business. But using online purchasing is AI. It is artificial intelligence.
You’re using a computer to place your order. Then, it goes through another computer system at the location, wherever your item is going to be packaged and shipped. And then, again, it’s all done automatically. Even Amazon’s talking about using drones to deliver packages. Yes, AI is going to displace certain types of jobs. I wouldn’t call them all unskilled. These could be highly skilled jobs, but just because of automation, those jobs are going to be eliminated. I would not call a carpenter an unskilled person. They’re very skilled. I don’t want to refer to everything as unskilled.
Right now, strawberries are all picked by labor, handpicked, but they’re coming up with equipment now that will handpick strawberries. A lot of fruit now, tree fruit, is now picked by robotics, and that eliminates then having to have laborers removing that fruit from the vine, as you would. Robotics are here. We’re not necessarily trying to fire people, get rid of people. We’re just changing the way we live.
Rob Artigo: Well, you mentioned the other day, and we’ll close this out here shortly, but lastly, you mentioned the other day to me about an example of a massive cattle ranch in Mexico that is entirely automated.
Ray Zinn: Right. Yeah. It’s the largest in the world, but everything’s done through automation. There’s no reason why we would have that cattle ranch in Mexico except for the problem of having it here in the US because of this flatulence or whatever. I mean all of this goo.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. Yeah, the cow gas.
Ray Zinn: Yeah.
Rob Artigo: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: It’s going to be emitted in Mexico rather than emitted from the US. But for some reason, or rather, the Mexican government is willing to allow those kinds of facilities, whereas our country won’t allow you to build that kind of facility here. But it’s all automated down there in Mexico. It’s not because of cheap labor, it’s just because of the greenhouse. What do you call it? The green-
Rob Artigo: Greenhouse gases?
Ray Zinn: Yeah, greenhouse gas issue. Again, we’re not just doing automation because of getting rid of labor, less expensive labor, but we’re doing it because of just, for example, in manufacturing, semiconductors. They shut down the manufacturing of semiconductors in the Bay Area, which eliminated thousands and thousands, thousands of jobs. Because this green pollution issue in the Bay Area, they just didn’t want those gases, those toxic gases, emitted into the atmosphere. They just said, you can no longer have a fab in Silicon Valley.
Rob Artigo: Wow. Well, times are changing.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. It’s not all related to just getting rid of unskilled labor. Because certainly, manufacturing semiconductors is not unskilled. But they say, “We don’t want you to pollute our air here,” or something. I don’t know. So then, they had to move to Colorado or Texas, or wherever, wherever they allow it. It’s not just displacing unskilled labor.
Rob Artigo: Well, Ray, for our listeners, please rate this podcast on your favorite platform. As always, you can reach out to Ray with your questions and your thoughts at toughthingsfirst.com. There, you’ll find all the social media links, blogs, and links to information about the books Tough Things First and the Zen of Zinn series, one, two, and three. Those are books on entrepreneurship, leadership management, but also, on discipline determination in life. It’s the Zen of Zinn series. Thanks again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob.