The next day, Mel Healy wrote a smart essay about Fauxtomation and the Mechanical Turk.
For all their tech, many leading tech firms nowadays may be rather more “hi-Turk”, relying on cheap labour to do the day-to-day maintenance and moderation of their social media. Like the Mechanical Turk’s operator these people are largely hidden away inside big boxes, only this time the boxes are on the opposite side of the planet, in India or the Philippines. Vast armies of invisible workers in underdeveloped countries.June 23, 2017, Shira Ovide wrote about the army of workers needed to bring you Amazon's one-click convenience.
Each box is decidedly unglamorous compared with the shiny new HQs and campuses of Silicon Valley in California or Google Docks in Dublin. You won’t find any fancy games rooms and lavish staff restaurants, or “micro kitchens”, chillout zones, fitness centres, swimming pools, wellness areas, tech stops or phone booths.
Fauxtomation is the word that crystalizes why I feel so angry about gushing articles like this about places like Eatsa, a restaurant that supposedly serves vegetarian food made by robots.
Customers tap their meal selections on an iPad or their smartphone and pay electronically. No cash is taken here. Then when the order is ready, hands slide the meal into a “cubby,” which lights up with the customer’s name. The plan is for it to be ready in less than minutes from the time the order is placed.Silicon Valley reinvented the automat. But--most insidiously--this time, they are selling a guilt-free low-cost experience by pretending that a low-paid human did not make the food.
Eatsa is the brainchild of Scott Drummond, a techie focused on data-driven results. He says forgoing meat, along with staff, helps keep the cost of goods down.Drummond is all about the data science and other buzz words/phrases such as “enhanced predictive and personal health engagement.” But can robots prepare these meals? If so, what a breakthrough in robotics!
How the kitchen will hold up remains to be seen. For now, at least, it relies on human components: about five employees involved in prepping, assembling, and expediting behind the store’s façade.The dirty secret finally comes out, there are people hiding in the mechanical Turks. Even then, he obfuscates further by invoking the glamour of warfare and robotics.
But for now, Eatsa still needs a few good chefs, with some special skills. “They can’t be afraid of technology,” say Drummond. “Our first general manager used to be a military robotics specialist.”You betcha that a robotics expert is not the guy making your $7 lunch in San Francisco.
Wonkblog explains the crisis in restaurant staffing, particularly in high cost areas such as SF-SV.
And don't even get me started on Blue Apron's unsafe working conditions necessary to bring us cheap, home-cooked meals. Food, like clothing, is not going to be cheap and fast unless we sacrifice some people. Are we willing to confront those choices head-on?
The Washington Post reports that shipping costs account take up 30% of the price of Blue Apron meals. It's a big driver in why BA squeezes their kitchen staff to work at unsafe speeds or to work off the clock without pay.