business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times has a story this morning about how Silicon Valley start-up Chowbotics has devised a “device, which it calls Sally the Salad Robot, (that) is aimed at reducing the risk of food-borne illness by assembling salads out of precut vegetables stored in refrigerated canisters.

“Diners use a touch screen to place their orders, choosing from a menu of recipes or designing their own salads. The machine calculates the number of calories per salad and drops the veggies into a bowl in less than a minute. There is less human contact with the food.”

Which the robot’s creators hope will lead to less bacteria and fewer viruses, greater food safety, and reduced risk for food business and their consumers.

It also, of course, lead to fewer jobs for humans.

Deepak Sekar, the device’s inventor and the founder and chief executive of Chowbotics, “insists that his company’s current focus — which is on the salad bar market instead of restaurants more broadly — means Sally won’t be a job killer,” the Times writes. “He says workers at salad bars could restock the robot, which holds enough ingredients for 50 salads before it needs to be refilled. And he says, restaurants can continue with their usual food preparation methods — relying on kitchen workers to do the chopping or buying precut vegetables.”

In fairness, he may be wrong. The Times writes, “There is evidence that automation can have a devastating effect on employment. Commercial robots have already begun to eliminate jobs, according to an M.I.T.-Boston University study published in March. Researchers analyzed the effects of industrial robots on local labor markets in the United States from 1990 to 2007, and estimated that adding one robot per 1,000 workers has led to unemployment for up to six workers and has caused a decrease in wages by up to 0.50 percent.”

Of course, there are those who argue the opposite: See this MNB story from just a few weeks ago.

An Eye-Opening conversation, methinks.
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