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McDonald's: More than a trillion served, by robots

McDonald's french fries being prepared.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
McDonald's french fries being prepared.

The latest news on the CNBC Disruptor50 companies upending the status quo in the markets:

This past week, President Obama made a plea on behalf of minimum wage workers and against income inequality, saying that anyone who works hard should be paid a decent wage. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos of Amazon was giving 60 Minutes a peek at drones—one of the most disruptive technologies from industries including agriculture to journalism—that Bezos said will one day deliver Amazon goods all across the land and—not to be outdone by Bezos—Google gave an exclusive to the New York Times on all the cool stuff it's working on related to robotics, including robots that could challenge Amazon in online retail sales and delivery dominance. Robots, though not the ones being made by Google, are also starting to patrol our nights—at less than minimum wage, or $6.25 an hour, according to a Times report this past week.

It was a nice thought from President Obama, but it would be fair to argue that when it comes to economic theory, his Point A to Point B about hard work meriting decent pay is about as thin as a blade of grass feeding cows in Warren Buffett's Nebraska prairie. After all, coal workers work hard, but the coal industry isn't exactly in an economic position to be adding lots of jobs in the future. I've been to a silver mine in Bolivia—saw lots of hard work there, too; didn't seem much in the way of prosperity. And Silicon Valley—while it creates lots of jobs for skilled workers and computer geniuses—isn't exactly in the business of preserving low wage jobs, no matter how hard those workers work. In fact, there are some people who believe technology will be responsible for the death of the middle class in this country.

Some skeptics say Bezos's carefully timed appearance about drones was a Cyber Monday PR stunt. And you can also make a solid argument that a decent wage is a win for the entire economy, not just the workers—that inequality, at its roots, will ultimately hold the larger economy down.

Maybe so, but as fast food workers protest low wages and the president of the United States equates hard work with the right to decent pay, the rise of technology once again proves to be no stunt, or laughing matter. McDonald's, where food production is already about as mechanized as food science allows, stopped updating the famous number "served" figure at its restaurants back in 1994—just short of 100 billion—but how long will it be before trillions are served their burgers and fries by a drone, after being cooked by a droid? Those machines work for cheap, and the best thing is, they have no concept of hard work, or dignity, or the foresight to consider whether or not the "cool" things they can do ultimately contribute, or detract, from a strong, consumer-dependent economy.

Other news of interest from the world of the CNBC Disruptor50 this week:

In what could be a Disruptor first, online and mobile gaming company Kabam has secured naming rights for the playing field at Memorial Stadium in a 15-year agreement worth $18 million, the University of California announced this past week. Starting next season, the 90-year-old facility officially will be known as Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium. The Kabam logo will appear on each of the 25-yard lines on the field, and above the Cal team bench near the 50-yard line, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki emerged from the FDA clampdown on her company's personal genetics company when speaking at a Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner this past week: "We completely recognize we're behind schedule; we failed to communicate proactively," she said. "[The FDA is] a very important partner, and everyone is focused on resolving it." She also said the FDA's regulatory approach is not really designed to tests products like the 23andMe DNA kit. You know where "we" stand on the issue.

Gaming industry disruptor Ouya has gotten offer to a rocky start, and it's taking some steps to kickstart what have been considered lackluster sales and some marketing missteps. It recently came out with a "classy" holiday edition of its console in white, and this past week, announced that it has joined the bandwagon of businesses

as payment.

How much is helping to hunt Osama bin Laden worth in monetary terms? $9 billion. That's what Silicon Valley big data firm—famous for helping the government track bin Laden, among other things—was valued at in a new round of financing, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing anonymous sources.

Dr. Dre's Beats music service is set to take on Spotify in the streaming music space, adding to the fast-growing list of competitors that now spans Pandora, Google and Apple, just to name a few. Not missing a beat, Spotify is reportedly getting set to offer a version of its service that is free, but ad-supported. Its current model is a subscription one for mobile access.

The reviews for Nest Labs' new smoke detector Protect said the latest gadget from iPod design chief Tony Fadell was really cool, but at $129, maybe hard to justify for most people. Well, some tens of thousands have justified the expense so far, Fadell told Forbes this past week. "It's going great," he said. You could say sales of Protect are "on fire!"

Private car company Uber's latest publicity stunt—and it seems to have no end of them—on demand delivery of Christmas trees, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

And in this week's edition of "It couldn't have happened without Kickstarter": a Jane Austen-inspired online role playing game has reached its funding goal, raising more than $100,000. Entertainment Weekly reported on the game which uses "a gossip/invitation system, which drives the actions of many of Austen's genteel characters. The playable characters (who can band together in guild-like Families) will also get to develop reputations and personality traits, including Happiness, Duty, and Status."

By Eric Rosenbaum, CNBC.com

Technology