Tablets at restaurants: Applebee’s, Chili’s race to eliminate human interaction.

Score one for the machines. On Tuesday, Applebee’s announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States. Customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and ignore their dining companions by playing video games.

Chili’s unveiled basically the same plan three months ago….

…The restaurants deny that the tablets represent an attempt to replace human employees with computers. Applebee’s is saying that it won’t change its staffing levels when the devices come online next year. And Chili’s is optimistic that the tablets will pay for themselves by bringing in extra revenue from impulse orders and at-the-table gaming. Not only will you not have to talk to a waiter when you want to order something, you won’t have to talk to your kids, either!

Then again, of course these businesses are saying they won’t use the tablets to replace employees. Announcing layoffs along with the tablet move would be begging for a backlash. The fact is, if the tablets work, they’ll make the ordering process more efficient and cut the amount of human labor that these restaurants require. At that point, do you suppose they’ll keep the extra waiters around out of charity?

via Slate

We like our ethics, our beliefs, our values, our philosophies – but then we want to control the outcome.

What Applebees is doing is economically rational. If people accept this as a way of doing business, it will have been the right decision. The solution to the problems presented here are solutions we as a society need to grapple with – starting with, what will we do when (not if, when) automation makes most human work obsolete?

And, no, simply passing laws to make businesses behave in an economically irrational factor is not a solution. As near as I can tell, there are only two solutions (though I’d love to learn about or figure out others): to directly subsidize – with taxpayer, not corporate, cash – the cost of hiring workers instead of machines, or to open up some new economic frontier – some new technological innovation that requires human workers, or some physical, literal new frontier, like colonizing the ocean or the moon.

Which isn’t as crazy as people like to think, given how concerned we are about overpopulation, global warming…and resources in general.

A few centuries ago, there were just a few widely used materials: wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, and silver. Today’s material diversity is astounding. A chip in your smartphone, for instance, contains 60 different elements. Our lives are so dependent on these materials that a scarcity of a handful of elements could send us back in time by decades.

If we do ever face such scarcity, what can be done? Not a lot, according to a paper published in PNAS. Thomas Graedel of Yale University and his colleagues decided to investigate the materials we rely on. They chose to restrict the analysis to metals and metalloids, which could face more critical constraints because many of them are relatively rare.

via Ars Technica.

I am just very bummed personally because I happen to like Applebees, and I have a funny feeling I won’t be enjoying their food so much now.