Technology keeps marching forward

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the most highly anticipated events on the convention calendar, the annual showcase of what’s coming in tech. While so much of the innovation is exciting, last week’s CES in Las Vegas was not all that appealing to many in the hospitality industry, as robots and AI technology were on display that could threaten people’s jobs.

One such robot was a robot barista that could create latte art. It sounds like a trivial use for technology, but in this case, latte art takes a long time for a human to master, so if technology can handle it with the click of a button, Las Vegas casino resorts might jump at the opportunity to employ a robot that can learn new designs instantly.

“It is very scary because tomorrow is never promised,” Sahara barista Roman Alejo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “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.”

He acknowledged that some of the innovations are “incredible,” but he is not thrilled that “in today’s world, everything seems to revolve around technology.”

Meng Wang, co-founder of food tech startup Artly Coffee, said, “What we are doing is not replacing jobs. We are filling the need in the market and we are bringing specialty coffee to more places.”

The Review-Journal described the scene at CES:

“And there was plenty new on the show floor: Friendly-faced robots that complete deliveries in hotels and restaurants. A robotic masseuse. Bots that can prepare and serve coffee, ice cream or boba. AI-powered smart grills that can handle tasks like broiling and searing without a human in the kitchen. And chef-like robots teasing a future with ‘autonomous restaurants,’ as one company put it.”

Contract provides some protections

Part of the new contract the Culinary Local 226 union negotiated with the casinos toward the end of 2023 was protections against technology that could replace humans. The contract requires the casino companies to give employees six months advance warning before the introduction of new technology. Unions also get a say in the selection of technology vendors.

Employees are not guaranteed to be protected from technology, but the companies are required to provide training for new positions for those affected by tech innovations. On top of that, if someone is laid off because their job was replaced by technology, they will receive $2,000 severance for every year of employment and six months of health and pension benefits.

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.”

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