Will AI Replace All McDonald's Workers?

Millions of people are supposed to lose their jobs because of artificial intelligence. This is particularly true of frontline workers, including those working in most retail operations. (These industries are laying off the most workers.)

The AI effect on workers may be beyond belief. The New York Times reports, “Generative A.I. could automate activities equivalent to 300 million full-time jobs globally, according to a recent estimate by Goldman Sachs.”

McDonald’s already has part of its stores that are automated. Most have kiosks where people can order food before going to the counter. There is no telling how many jobs this has replaced already.

Most large retailers, including Walmart and Home Depot, have automated checkouts. People scan their items and pay without human help. Once again, there is no way to tell how many positions this has allowed these retailers to eliminate.

So, McDonald’s can use automation for people to order and for people to pay. That leaves the preparation of food. McDonald’s has a relatively limited menu. That means machines do not have to be built for sophisticated work. Look at the floor of a Ford factory. Robots already perform much more complex jobs than making food.

How many people could McDonald’s eliminate? The fast-food giant has about 200,000 U.S. employees, and tens of thousands of them work at individual locations. Eventually, most of those jobs will be replaced.

When tens of thousands of people lose their jobs at McDonald’s, where will they go? Add that to those who may lose their jobs at hundreds of other retailers. The New York Times article may be right. Layoffs from AI could number into the millions.

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