Do we need humans for that job? Automation booms after COVID

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Ask for a roast beef sandwich at an Arby’s drive-thru east of Los Angeles and you may be talking to Tori – an artificially intelligent voice assistant that will take your order and send it to the line cooks.

“It doesn’t call sick,” says Amir Siddiqi, whose family installed the AI voice at its Arby’s franchise this year in Ontario, California. “It doesn’t get corona. And the reliability of it is great.”

The pandemic didn’t just threaten Americans’ health when it slammed the U.S. in 2020 – it may also have posed a long-term threat to many of their jobs. Faced with worker shortages and higher labor costs, companies are starting to automate service sector jobs that economists once considered safe, assuming that machines couldn’t easily provide the human contact they believed customers would demand.

A diner at Bartaco uses their app to order an item off the menu, at the restaurant in Arlington, Va., on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Past experience suggests that such automation waves eventually create more jobs than they destroy, but that they also disproportionately…

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