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Hey there, Chris here:

An old boss of mine used to tell me “Your conscience won’t always tell you when you’re right, but it will always tell you when you’re wrong.”

That’s good advice, but there are times when right and wrong aren’t so clear cut. In the food industry, that happens frequently, and this week The Spoon published a couple stories underscoring some of the ethical entanglements that come with innovation in food technology.

Jenn Marston highlighted an interesting discussion unfolding in New York City over the ethics of cashless eateries. A city councilman there wants to ban them, saying that cashless establishments leave out the poor, minorities and the underbanked. He’s not wrong … but getting rid of cash can also improve worker safety (nothing to rob) and improve accounting accuracy.

Which side is right? Is there even a “right” side? It gets tricky, right? If you think you have the right answer, leave a comment or drop us a line to let us know what you think.

Another topic fraught with ethical complications is robotics. Advancement in automation, especially for repetitive, manual tasks, means there will be far fewer jobs for us actual humans. Should we applaud or fear the rise of our robot replacements? The new robo-bartender pouring wine at Cyberdog isn’t probably too much of a threat, I mean, it doesn’t even make margaritas! (Yet…)

But what about the robot waiters at the new DAWN cafe in Tokyo? Japan is unique because their population is aging and the country is in need of labor. To add another ethical twist, the robo waitstaff at the DAWN cafe are being driven remotely by people with disabilities like ALS from their homes. So these robots are actually adding jobs — albeit temporary ones, as the cafe will only be open for a couple of weeks.

In the case of both cashless restaurants and food robots, the questions that arise are as interesting as the answers. Of course, that’s easy for me to say as I have a credit card and am not disabled. But these are the questions we need to raise now, before the robots decide for us.

Of course, there are questions that are simply more fun to ask. Like whether or not you should grow your own weed, Cloudponics has the device for you. It’s self-contained cloud-connected hydroponic GroBox will yield as much as one pound of dry bud in three months. Just be sure to check your local laws, first.

Speaking of getting local, Mike Wolf and Catherine Lamb jetted down to LA this week for our first foodtech meet-up in the City of Angels. The half-day event was jam-packed with great discussions, like the Future of Restaurant panel, where three CEOs gave us their take on how tech is transforming the eatery business. Tech like online reservations platform, Tock, which just raised $9.5 million this week, and Keatz, a Berlin-based startup that is creating ghost restaurant chains across Europe. Will these two startups change how we interact with restaurants? Another good question!

Finally, if you’re looking for an ethical way to spend your weekend, may we suggest drinking in some of Nathan Myhrvold’s high-tech, high-def food photography , or binge Netflix’s The Final Table.

Have a great weekend. Be kind.

Stories in this issue:

Ford Motors Is Using Vertical Farming to Feed and Educate Detroit

By Jennifer Marston on Nov 30, 2018 01:00 pm
On Wednesday, Ford Motors and Detroit’s Cass Community Social Services announced a new hydroponic container farm that will grow produce year-round and help to feed Detroit’s food-insecure areas. The 40-foot shipping container was donated by the Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Motor Company Fund. It’s the second part of a larger $250,000 grant from Cass […]

Modernist Cuisine’s Nathan Myhrvold on Photography, Robotics, and Pizza

By Catherine Lamb on Nov 30, 2018 11:55 am
If there’s one man who you can trust to take some out-of-the-ordinary food photographs — ones that both celebrate the natural phenomena of food and dissect it— it’s Nathan Myrhvold. For those out of the know, Myhrvold is a techy, inventive powerhouse: former CTO of Microsoft, founder of intellectual property company Intellectual Ventures, and driving […]

Raise a Glass for the New Robot Bartender in Prague

By Chris Albrecht on Nov 30, 2018 08:24 am
The sitcom, Cheers, probably would have been a lot less funny if the role of Sam the bartender had been played by an robotic, drink-pouring arm. I mean, sure, it can serve up glasses of chablis, but it probably can’t yell out “NORM!” Reuters reports there’s a new robotic cocktail slinger in town, and it […]

Is the Future of Meal Kits Frozen Dinners?

By Chris Albrecht on Nov 29, 2018 03:59 pm
Meal kits have been migrating away from mail order and into grocery aisles over the past year. But is the next step in meal kits a blast from the past?

Video: How Epic Fails Helped Markov Make a Robot that Cooks

By Catherine Lamb on Nov 29, 2018 02:00 pm
“Innovation” is a word that’s thrown around an awful lot in the technology world, and food tech is no exception. But creating actual innovation — that is, solving a problem in a new way — is really, really hard. And it usually requires a lot of failure. Which is why Arvind de Menezes Pereira, CTO […]

Should Cash-Free Businesses Be Made Illegal? This NYC Politician Thinks So

By Jennifer Marston on Nov 29, 2018 12:00 pm
The debate over cashless payments continues, and if you’re not familiar yet with its finer points, trust me, you will be soon enough: arguments both for and against the concept are heating up. Grub Street threw another log on the fire this week when it released an interview with NYC councilmember Ritchie J. Torres, who […]

DeepMagic Combines Computer Vision and AI to Make Mini, Unattended Amazon Gos

By Chris Albrecht on Nov 29, 2018 09:58 am
One of the questions that comes up when talking about Amazon Go cashierless stores is when the grab-and-go technology experience will scale up from a bodega-sized convenience store to a full-on grocery experience. But instead of thinking big, startup DeepMagic is going the other direction: developing small unattended, cashierless micro-retail outlets. Using a combination of […]

BroodMinder Open Sources its Beehive Sensor Data

By Chris Albrecht on Nov 29, 2018 06:00 am
There are plenty of companies out there making sensors that allow beekeepers to monitor their hives. What sets BroodMinder apart is that it makes all of the data generated by its users free and open to the public by default. BroodMinder is a small, bootstrapped company that sells basic hive sensors to the beekeeping enthusiast […]

Samsung Adds Amazon’s Virtual Dash Buttons To Family Hub

By Michael Wolf on Nov 28, 2018 03:13 pm
If you’re like me when you think of Amazon and in-home shopping nowadays, the first thing that pops to mind is Alexa. But before Alexa took over the world, Amazon had introduced another platform to enable effortless in-home shopping for pretty much anything: Dash. First came the wand and later Dash buttons, and eventually Amazon […]

Three CEOs on How Tech is Transforming the Restaurant Experience

By Catherine Lamb on Nov 28, 2018 02:12 pm
When the famed L.A. institution Canter’s Deli opened an outpost in the first Kitchen United (KU) location, the first visitors were two elderly ladies. They had read about the new Canter’s location in the paper and stopped in for some piping-hot matzo ball soup. “That’s when I thought ‘Uh Oh,’” said Jim Collins, CEO of […]

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  1. The problem with Cashless Restaurants

    The cashless trend is growing in popularity day to day. Restaurants are only accepting credit cards as they feel this speeds up lines and the end of day processes and lessens employee theft opportunities. These three points are stressed over and over in articles promoting this new cashless concept, but at the same time there has been an influx of articles with countless concerns on this topic. A cashless society is promoted by credit card companies, and establishments taking on this movement are being rewarded a one time payment reward for converting their business to credit only. The first issue with this is that, with only credit card payments the business will end up paying more transaction fees to the credit card companies. With the increase in fees, the restaurants make up for it by raising prices. So when a customer comes in to a restaurant and finds out the prices have changed and they cannot use their cash, it starts getting more and more customers upset and finding a new place to eat.
    Another huge issue is cashless payments leave a digital trail and are much easier for government organizations to track. The establishment now has your full name and zip code and the bank has a trail of where you were, how much you spent, ect. Having to only use your card also makes you more vulnerable to be a victim of cybercrime, identity theft and bank account hacking. Lastly, by denying patrons the ability to use cash as a form of payment, businesses are discriminating against lower-income and young patrons. Also, there are a lot of people who choose to pay with cash as a way of money management and budgeting. When you see actual cash leave your hands, your are less likely to over spend. So restaurants are now taking away these individuals rights to budget as they would like.

    At this moment there are many politicians and law makers addressing this trend and working on changing and updating laws to bring rights back to these consumers. Also, many restaurants are getting an overwhelming amount of negative online reviews which start affecting their new and returning customer rates. This brings them to a point where they change back to allowing cash to save the business. As this cashless trend continues to grow, it also continues to receive a ton of pushback, many are following this topic to keep up with what ends up happening to this cashless movement. Will it continue or will it be stopped?

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