The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program released a new report yesterday on the future and impact of automation on the U.S. workforce. Predictably, food service jobs do not fare well.

Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places forecasts automation trends across industries through 2030. From that report:

Approximately 25 percent of U.S. employment (36 million jobs in 2016) will face high exposure to automation in the coming decades (with greater than 70 percent of current task content at risk of substitution).

Among the industries with the greatest share of tasks susceptible to automation, food service comes in second highest, behind production.

Image from the The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report: Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places. Used with permission.

That food service is so greatly impacted by automation is not that surprising. The Brookings’ study follows a report last year from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that predicted 14 percent of jobs worldwide were “highly automatable,” including food services.

But you also don’t need a fancy research paper to see the automation happening across the food service industry right before our eyes: Bear Robotics has Penny bussing tables, Flippy is grilling burgers, Cafe X is slinging lattes, Spyce is almost entirely robot run. And that’s just here in the U.S.

Definitely check out Brookings’ full report for more details on how automation will impact minorities in particular, as well as different states across the country.

Thankfully, the Brookings report doesn’t just dish out dire predictions, it also makes suggestions for how to deal with all of those soon-to-be displaced workers. Brookings suggests that governments should lean into this coming wave of automation, writing:

One response to the trends detailed here might seem to be to curb technology-driven change. Leaders should resist this impulse. Instead, while committing to a just and beneficial transition, they should embrace tech and indeed automation to generate the economic productivity needed to increase both living standards and the demand for labor in non-automated tasks. By embracing technology-based growth, the nation and its regions will have the best shot at ensuring that there are enough jobs

To be sure, automation is not uniformly bad. Robots can perform manual, repetitive tasks with greater speed and precision than a human. They are don’t get injured doing more dangerous work like operating a hot oven or deep fryer. Robots doing those tasks also free up humans for higher-skill and more customer-facing work.

Robots are coming, the process now will be managing the transition throughout the food service industry from our current, human-centric workforce to an automated one.

To help displaced workers and society at large with this impending transition, Brookings says we should adopt a “Universal Adjustment Benefit.” This benefit would include career counseling, retraining, and “robust income support.”

But I highly doubt our current political leaders are equipped and empathetic enough to take these suggestions seriously, or even recognize the issues related to automation and worker displacement already happening.

We at The Spoon, however, are encouraging this exact type of conversation and trying to help those up and down the food stack deal with automation. The ethics surrounding robots and automation in the food industry is one of the topics we’ll have experts chatting about at our Articulate conference in San Francisco on April 16th. You should join us there and share your thoughts, and more importantly, solutions.

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