In a development straight out of a dystopian sci-fi thriller, fast food giant Wendy’s has embarked on a chilling experiment, replacing its drive-through order takers with an AI chatbot powered by Google software. This technological takeover aims to streamline the ordering process by training the AI to understand customer requests and decrease waiting times at the drive-throughs.
According to reports from the Wall Street Journal, Wendy’s is set to launch this eerie transformation in its home state of Ohio, starting with locations in Columbus. The company plans to implement the change in June, all in the name of shorter lines and faster service, as declared by Chief Executive Todd Penegor.
Describing the forthcoming experience, Penegor stated, “It will be very conversational. You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee.” This AI-driven shift in the fast-food industry undoubtedly comes at a cost, although the company has not disclosed the specific financial investment they are making.
Wendy’s AI order takers will be equipped with custom-learned terms embedded in their programming, ensuring smooth communication with customers. For instance, terms like ‘JBC’ will refer to the junior bacon cheeseburger, while ‘biggie bags’ will denote combo meals. Such distinctive terminology poses a notable challenge for AI, but Wendy’s is determined to overcome it.
Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, shed light on the difficulties faced in developing AI for order-taking, emphasizing that the seemingly simple task of speaking into a drive-through presents significant complexities. Factors like customers changing their orders or excessive noise in the car make the development process far more arduous.
The AI chatbot will also be programmed to upsell customers on additional products during the order process, seamlessly incorporating daily promotions and small add-ons. Once the order is placed, it will be transmitted to a computer for the cooks to access, and then handed over to the customer by the workers.
Wendy’s has reportedly conducted successful initial tests of the AI system, further fueling their enthusiasm for this technological transition. However, this shift raises concerns about the future of human workers. At a time when labor market competition is already fierce, with workers struggling to secure fair wages while contending with low-cost migrant labor, the rise of AI represents a potentially ominous development. While order takers may be the first casualties of this automation wave, the long-term implications for the broader labor market are undoubtedly worrisome.
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