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Can Automation Replace C-store Employees?

TUCSON, Ariz. — A minimum wage of $15 per hour would be a "tipping point" whereby automation could begin to replace employees in the retail workforce as early as the next decade, futurist Michael Rogers believes.

"Employee cost is a big thing we will face due to the ability to automate jobs in the next 10 years," Rogers said in a presentation Monday at the 2016 Conexxus Annual Conference, taking place this week at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson. "I've already seen a hamburger-making robot that makes a good hamburger. [The robot] is expensive, but could be worth it when we reach $15 per hour."

In fact, automation could become such a big threat to today's retail workers that the U.S. government may need to slap companies with an "automation tax" to prevent the nation's unemployment rate from rising. Even with such a tax, though, workers in all fields will need to possess skills that can differentiate themselves from robots, he noted.

"What skills are uniquely human?" asked Rogers. "My answer is: communication, problem solving and collaboration."

Although robots replacing retail employees may seem far off to some, Conexxus attendees believed Rogers' comments could be accurate, to a degree. 

"We agree the changes to the minimum wage will create a natural shift in demand, both for c-store employees and technology, with technology accomplishing the tasks that no longer make economic sense under the new rules," Sergey Gorlov, CEO of Pittsburgh-based Petrosoft LLC, told CSNews Online at the event. 


As for retail employees who rise above the threat of automation, Rogers expects they will always be connected online in the future, with products such as smartglasses, smartbracelets and wearable clothing technology. In fact, he said losing an internet connection will soon become a bigger catastrophe than a power failure.

"By 2022, we will have to teach kids what offline means," he quipped.

In his speech during Conexxus' opening general session, Rogers was questioned about the future of battery technology and electric vehicles. He predicts batteries will not get much smaller than they are now, at least anytime soon, and he believes plug-in hybrid vehicles have a much better future outlook than electric-only vehicles.

Conexxus (formerly known as PCATS) is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and petroleum market.

The 2016 Conexxus Annual Conference continues through May 5. 

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