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Is Upping the Minimum Wage Good for the Information Security Industry?

The movement for upping the minimum wage in the US is gathering momentum. Protests and placard waving are on the increase, and the quest for $15 per hour is well underway. There are plenty of arguments as to why such a hike in minimum wage is necessary, and what the consequences could be to those businesses dependent upon the cheapest hourly labor. But, for the information security industry, upping the minimum wage will likely yield only good news.

It's hard not to be cynical, but we're already hearing how simple automation will be used to replace most basic unskilled jobs.

For technologists, hiking up the minimum wage will almost certainly be fantastic news. Why stop at $15 per hour… perhaps $25 would yield a more dramatic societal change?

In some ways it's hard to fathom how significant this minimum wage movement could be in driving the next generation of technology and information security, but I'm pretty sure we're on the cusp of a new generation of technological automation and innovation.

The combination of a dramatic increase in mandatory minimum wages, the steady cost-reduction of embedded systems, and the recent advancements in robotic control logic are working together to lower the threshold with which the next generation of robotic systems become economically viable.

If you thought those self-serve payment kiosks at your local supermarket or fast-food joint were an indicator of things to come, you were right. The coming generation of self-serve and automated construction or delivery systems have been in many innovators minds for a long time — but had been shelved for economic reasons. This year — assuming minimum wages advance to $15 per hour or greater — we'll see a fundamental societal change.

The stakes have changed — and it will unlikely bode well for those occupations that the minimum wage could likely have helped.

Those store clerk, hostess, or "order taker" jobs will largely cease to exist. With a few key presses I'll be able to type my own order for a medium Big Mac combo meal with no mayo… all by myself… and get my name spelled correctly too. In many ways I'd sooner have a mechanical marvel flipping burgers and frying my fries, with a little conveyor bringing me my meal (TM)… than the current solution of having 5 different dissatisfied "minimum wage" people assemble my meal with all the gusto and enthusiasm of a beard-net.

With the threshold for economic viability likely to fall so sharply, it doesn't take a soothsayer to predict a tsunami of automated solutions capable of not only replacing costly unskilled-labor jobs, but also increasing quality and consistency of the products delivered. Perhaps those photos of plump and enticing burgers above every fast-food counter you've ever seen will finally be representative of what your robotic (quality controlled) chef produces? Or maybe that'll remain a fantasy.

Regardless, what's good for technologists and the impending minimum-wage revolution is undoubtedly doubly good for the information security industry.

New products, new technology, new software, new flaws, and new pressures to secure them, will require a new generation of testing methodologies, automated vulnerability scanner tools, and a growing body of specialist consultancy skills.

While not yet a scholar of history (more precisely a student of history), I can see parallels with the 19th Century Luddite movement against newly developed labor-economizing technologies. Most people associate the Luddites with the mindless smashing of technology they didn't understand, but in reality it was about unemployment and retaining a way of life. This time around, I think we can expect folks will know and understand the technology they and their friends will be replaced with… and that means that electronic attacks and hacking will usurp sledgehammers in the pending automated revolution.

There are certainly pros and cons to the societal change we stand at the cusp of.

As an information security professional, things are quite rosy. For those whose only skills lie in delivering platters of fast-food, or processing an order from a menu, or any repetitive sales task, things are about to get pretty rough.

If there's a silver lining for everyone else, perhaps it lies in the pending demise of the US tipping culture? The arguments for tipping waitstaff making a "living wage" or the tablet on the table taking your food and drink order may quickly become mute.

By Gunter Ollmann, CTO, Security (Cloud and Enterprise) at Microsoft

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Comments

I don’t see anything in your analysis By Alex Tajirian  –  Apr 17, 2015 12:41 pm PST

I don’t see anything in your analysis that does not follow from a basic economic model with labor and capital inputs, while it ignores the unemployment effects on a large number of small businesses. Nevertheless, new U.S. technologies that use lasers and software are already having tremendous impact on manufacturing efficiency. Thus, would increasing the minimum wage provide an even bigger boost to technological innovation or would it only have a substitution effect?

Mute? By John Berryhill  –  Apr 22, 2015 12:39 pm PST

Perhaps those whose limited range of skills do not include a functionally literate command of the English language should refrain from attempting to employ it for the purpose arrogant condescension toward those fellow humans considered to be inferior.  But, alas, we can't have everything can we.

"Mute" and "moot" are two different words.  Remember that next time you order a "stake" at a restaurant.  You might get one.

Yeah, right By John Levine  –  Apr 23, 2015 6:12 am PST

This is the usual right wing argument against minimum wages and any other kind of worker safety net. Actual experience has shown that minimum wage increases in the range anyone is talking about don't cause unemployment, as employers adjust. Furthermore, better paid employees do a better job and quit less often, so they have lower training costs and are more valuable to their employers. Costco pays their staff better than Walmart, and as a result they have better staff. Walmart finally noticed and recently grudgingly increased the pay of their lowest paid workers. What does Walmart know that this guy doesn't, beyond how to spell?

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