Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"The Automated Future and Past of Fast Food" With Cameos By Levkovich and Hitler

Searchable feedreaders are cool.
So is serendipity.

Since the recent unpleasantness (what is it ~40% declines for Shanghai and Shenzhen?) began, FT Alphaville's David Keohane has had some of the best China commentary around but in the last couple days he's gotten more philosophical, using the passing parade as an opportunity to juxtapose and as a jumping off point for deeper commentary.

Yesterday it was Of pampered Indian unicorns and today, riffing and attributing in Fair and repeated warning: Humans, your purpose is at risk:
To nick an opening from Climateer… at some point the labour-capital pendulum may not swing back. 
Not sure we’re there yet but an automated restaurant in San Francisco is surely a signpost on the road to some sort of hell, albeit potentially just one made up of shoddy dining experiences.
Hell is… soylent served to you by an automaton in a room of people pretending they’re having a good time.
Anyway. That aside, we may as well keep an eye on that pendulum.
From Citi’s Tobias M Levkovich, with our emphasis:
But, policy reactions to any change tend to be somewhat populist and politically expedient, especially since louder, strident and often extreme voices are heard over the apathy of the silent majority. For example, lifting the minimum wage, which affects a small proportion of the working population, while well intentioned, may perversely hasten the introduction of robots into fast food restaurants and these machines never need a bathroom break. While most of us consider robots to be more of a factory phenomenon and industrial robot sales have been on a steady ascent (depicted in Figure 3), the broadening out of their uses due to further advances in sensors and monitoring systems, suggests that factors like artificial intelligence could make their adoption expand into many other areas. 
New machines are being used at various companies to move product in warehouses to the shipping docks. Supermarkets are testing machines that arrange products on shelves (one already can do self-checkout and payment) and various companies are studying self-driving vehicles....MUCH MORE
The Nazis show up in the comments, I don't think Mr. Keohane would gratuitously invoke the Berchtesgaden bunch.

Anyhoo... as I was about to ask if we had anything further on the fast food biz, thinking along the lines of last year's 360-burgers-per-hour "The Robot DESIGNED to Eliminate Fast Food Workers", this dropped out of one of the readers. From the academic journal storage folks at JSTOR:

"Bamn Automat" by User:Nricardo - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -
The “Fight for Fifteen” campaign to raise the wages of workers in fast food and other low-wage industries has prompted much speculation about the automation of restaurant work. But the mechanized delivery of meals isn’t just the possible future of fast food—it’s also the way the industry got its start. 
In a 2000 paper for New York History, Nicholas Bromell recounts the way automats created a bridge between early-twentieth century cafeterias and the opening of the first McDonalds and Burger King restaurants in the 1950s. 
Bromell wrote that cafeterias were, themselves, the fast food joints of turn-of-the-century America, criticized for the “hasty, gulping style of eating” they promoted. Their food was cheaper and healthier than offerings from street vendors and diners, and they let urban workers grab a quick lunch and get right back to the job. 
The first automat in New York City opened in 1912. Diners chose a selection from a “wall of tiny glass windows displaying a high-rise of culinary delights,” Bromell writes. They dropped some nickels in a slot, turned a knob, and took their food. The kitchen ran just like any other cafeteria operation, replacing the food as it was sold, but the automated vending kept lines from getting too long and reduced the opportunities for unhygienic food handling. 
Automat owners emphasized the “scientific” dining experience with art-deco furnishings. The clean, streamlined feel helped convince the public that they were appropriate places for women as well as men. 
Prefiguring McDonalds, automat chain owner Horn & Hardart standardized their food in new ways. The corporation set recipes and preparation methods down to the size of the bacon square to be placed on top of a serving of baked beans. 
Still, aspects of the experience would be strange to a modern fast-food customer. There was no take-out, let alone a drive-through window. People sat family-style, side by side with strangers at a table, and they ate on hand-painted crockery with real flatware....MORE
Here's the paper, "The Automat: Preparing the Way for Fast Food".