There’s no doubt that automation is going to have a massive impact on employment over the coming decades. Whether you think it’s going to result in mass unemployment or wind up creating whole classes of new job types, A.I. and robotics are still going to be enormous workplace disruptors. And tech companies know it.
One startup taking a welcome proactive step is Makr Shakr, the company behind Toni, which describes itself as “the world’s leading robotic bartending system.” Makr Shakr just announced that it is launching the world’s first automatic stipend. For every robot bartender that it sells, the company is going to be handing over a $1,000 monthly stipend to a select person in a field likely to be affected by automation. The pilot program will kick off in December, before arriving in Europe later in 2020.
According to Makr Shakr, the first recipient of the scheme will be 50-year-old Brian Townsell, a U.S. citizen who has worked in restaurants and hotels for much of his career. While he’d like to work in the brewery field, he has been unable to do this while also supporting his family. That’s where Makr Shakr hopes that its stipend will come in handy. The company believes that the stipend will help to support people as they look for more secure forms of employment. It’s not clear how long the “winners” of the offer will continue to receive money.
It’s certainly an intriguing idea. It combines the idea of universal basic income with the growing concerns about automation. However, in this case, it would be the companies helping to disrupt the market who are directly paying out to the people bearing the brunt of the disruption. It’s a tricky area with plenty of ethical dilemmas tied into it. Are companies allowed to absolve themselves of the guilt of disrupting jobs if they pay out cash like it’s carbon offsetting? Should they have a hand in choosing who receives the money? Could this privatized social security safety net scale up and, if it did, would its role in helping people make it harder to regulate tech companies?
None of these are easy questions. But — marketing gimmick or not — at least Makr Shakr is playing an important role by taking this first step. After all, this is an issue that’s not going away any time soon. Now to see if any other companies follow suit.