The fast food industry has grown increasingly more automated over the past few decades. Technology has cut the time and cost of each step in the production and delivery of food to customers. However, will we ever get to life in the Jetsons’ World where machines spit out our meals with the push of a button – and I’m not talking about pre-packing candy bars from a vending machine?

Businessmen who’ve seen the transformation of the fast food industry think so, and changes in labor costs are a driver of this.

The Washington Post interviewed several executives who weigh in on the impact of the $15 minimum wage on the business decisions of fast food companies like McDonald’s. Reflecting back, one recounts working for McDonald’s in 1966 when each store employed on average 60 to 70 people –compared to half as many today – and everything was made by hand. From cutting shortcakes to stirring syrups into the milk for milkshakes, technology changed the game such that more ingredients would be delivered packaged and pre-mixed only needing to be reheated.

While this eliminated the need for workers for preparation, it opened up new opportunities for grill cooks and cashiers and made them more productive. However, now, we can expect kiosks and tablets to replace waiters and cashiers, assembly lines to eliminate line chefs like sushi chefs, and even drones to replace deliverymen. All low-wage jobs may not disappear as people will be needed to run machinery or provide a human touch, but the industry will look a lot differently.

Here’s more:

Many chains are already at work looking for ingenious ways to take humans out of the picture, threatening workers in an industry that employs 2.4 million wait staffers, nearly 3 million cooks and food preparers and many of the nation’s 3.3 million cashiers.

The avalanche of rising costs is why franchisers are now aggressively looking for technology that can allow them to produce more food, faster, with higher quality and lower waste. Dave Brewer is chief operating officer with Middleby Corp., which owns dozens of kitchen equipment brands, and is constantly developing new ways to optimize performance and minimize cost.

All that innovation helps restaurants streamline other parts of their operations — and draw in more customers. Electronic menus can be constantly updated so that items that are out of stock can be removed. Connecting the point of the sale to the oven’s operating system allows precise amounts of food to be cooked, which helps cut down on food costs. Other inventions save energy, reduce maintenance and better dispose of grease. On the digital side, restaurants are working on apps that include reward systems and location tracking that prompt customers to eat with them more frequently.

It’s possible that new inventions could start to eliminate positions faster than they have in the past…. Olive Garden said earlier this year that it would roll out the Ziosk system at all its restaurants, which means that all a server has to do is bring out the food.

Robots can even help cut down on the need for high-skilled workers, such as sushi chefs. A number of high-end restaurants already use machines for rolling rice out on sheets of nori, a relatively menial task that takes lots of time…

Of course, it’s possible to imagine all kinds of dramatic productivity enhancements. Persona Pizzeria’s Harold Miller predicts drone delivery systems will eventually get rid of the need to come into a restaurant at all, for example. Brewer has a bold prediction: He thinks that all the automation working its way into restaurants could eventually cut staffing levels in half. The remaining employees would just need to learn how to operate the machines and fix things when they break.

Not everybody, however, agrees that machines could make that much of a dent in labor costs. Implementing new systems is expensive, and mistakes can be devastating. And for some concepts, it’s possible that the presence of employees is actually a restaurant’s competitive advantage. Compared with grocery stores and gas stations, many people come to restaurants exactly because they want some human interaction.

Whether the impact is monumental or just big, the fast-food workers who are protesting for a higher wage should take note that they may unintentionally be marching for the demise of their own jobs. Too much of the conversation has been about rhetoric and focused on the what activists portray as an immediate impact f higher wages.

What minimum wage workers may want to consider is what skills they can acquire to secure the jobs that don’t just pay the bare minimum.  Protesting for higher minimum wages that a business can support may lead instead to the elimination of those entry-level jobs that afford opportunities to learn skills, including such rudimentary skills as showing up on time and interacting with customers,  on the job.

What’s needed a is a serious discussion about how to prepare all American workers for the  changing economy that will require a different level and skill set than many currently possess and that fewer will possess if calls for government-mandated raises puts them out of the work force before they have acquired skills.