All eyes were on robots powered by AI that were taking on the roles of chefs and baristas at this year’s CES 2024. During the technology tradeshow, spectators were able to watch as AI-powered robots were able to mimic human movement with great precision according to the Associated Press.
Though many within the crowd were in awe of the spectacle, human workers such as Roman Alejo, a 34-year-old barista at the Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas felt anxiety at the AI’s ability. “It is very scary because tomorrow is never promised,…A lot of AI is coming into this world. It is very scary and very eye-opening to see how humans can think of replacing other humans.”
These fears have been simmering in many industries as CEOs look to generative AI to enhance their labor force or reduce overall numbers. And last year, Goldman Sachs’s report made clear that AI’s effect on the global economy is likely to be tremendous.
With fast-food companies leading the charge of integrating AI into their overall workflows, there’s no telling, yet, where the winds may go when it comes to labor’s relationship with AI-enhanced machines.
But one thing is for sure, people on all sides of the issue are paying close attention. This comes after a high-profile strike ended where AI was a major issue being discussed. Ted Pappageorge, the Culinary Workers Union’s secretary-treasurer said, “Technology was a strike issue and one of the very last issues to be resolved.”
The fears related to new technology are nothing new. As a new tool emerges worries of its effect on labor take center stage. However, it could be interesting to see how AI-powered robots could, if used to enhance human productivity be used.
One example of this comes from a post by SpaceX & Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s X (Formerly known as Twitter) account. Here, the tech leader shows off Tesla’s Optimus folding a shirt:
Optimus folds a shirt pic.twitter.com/3F5o3jVLq1
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 15, 2024
As technology continues to advance, labor experts believe that unions will have to alter how they negotiate with companies. Bill Werner, an associated professor in the hospitality department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that unions have to be “much more deliberate” in how they negotiate job security.
He continued, “What is going to happen to these people and what rights do they have?… And what happens to them if they lose their job to a robot?” But not everyone is worried that AI will harm the labor market.
Instead, it’s the reason many in labor are at CES. Ted Pappageorge, the Culinary Workers Union’s secretary-treasurer said, “This idea that technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence is just running wild with no control at all can do incredible damage,…So what we have to do is get ahead of the curve, and CES is where it’s at.”