Growing up, especially during economic downturns, I remember hearing a lot of concern that robots would take American jobs. The answer to that concern was that people still be needed to build, maintain, and manage the robots. It was hard to argue, however, that technology would not eventually replace some unskilled labor.
It seems that is one step closer to happening in Europe, where McDonalds has ordered 7,000 kiosks to replace cashiers. Our local Wal-Marts have been experimenting with this technology for several years. From what I'm able to see, I have a hard time imagining there is much monetary savings. The theft problem, alone, eats up a lot of whatever is saved by not hiring minimum wage cashiers. And then it takes time to train the public on how to use the machines properly - especially in the beginning, a customer service manager is required to complete many of the transactions, either because of customer error, bar-code error, or because age verification is needed (for alcohol and medicines), or ID needs to be checked for check-writing. Still, well more than half of the check-out lanes are manned by real live human beings.
McDonalds Europe may be about to learn a lesson the hard way on this, too. Only time will tell whether this will actually save them money.
What it will do, however, as Newowin points out, is allow McDonalds to harvest data about the purchasing and eating habits of its employees. With nationalized healthcare even more popular in Europe than it is here, one can only speculate how invasive this "research" will eventually become. One solution, at least in the short-term? Pre-paid Visa debit cards, which can be used anonymously.
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.