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Artificial Intelligence Has Replaced Drive-Thru Staff At This Fast Food Restaurant

An American fast food restaurant has introduced artificial intelligence (AI) to its drive-thru service, but an Aussie tech expert says he's not convinced others will rush to follow.

In what's being hailed a world-first, customers at the Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard in Colorado, U.S., will lean through their car window and give their order to an artificially intelligent voice assistant -- not a human.

Good Times' newest employee -- so to speak -- was designed to replicate human interactions, with limited pauses and a menu-based script that varies depending on the conversation with the customer.

The AI has a calm and friendly female voice which sounds like a more fluid version of Amazon’s Alexa according to Rob Carpenter of Valyant AI, the artificial intelligence company that designed the customer service platform.

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'She' is emotion-free and immune to stress -- and has no need to step away from the drive-thru window to eat, go to the toilet or even sleep.

"The AI never gets offended, and it will just keep talking to you in a very calm and friendly voice," Carpenter said.

Plus, it means human workers don't have to take on the anxiety-fuelled, fast-paced and repetitive -- read: dull -- drive-thru role.

Sounds like the perfect world, right?

Well, not everyone thinks so.

Erikka Knuti –– communications director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union –– said that employing AI is a bit of an F.U to workers and customers alike.

"These companies are saying, 'We don't care about you, and we don't care if you're getting better service,'" she said to The Washington Post.

"They'll say it's more efficient, but I don't know any situation where somebody said, 'I'm really glad that there wasn't somebody there at customer service or checkout when I needed help.'"

Despite the criticism, other AI companies in the US are pitching similar technology to McDonald’s and Taco Bell, as well as several major banks, according to TechCrunch.

Restaurants around the globe are already using machines to flip burgers, prepare pizzas, pour drinks and cook entire meals in full view of hungry customers.

Maccas in Australia encourages customers to order using self-service kiosks or a mobile app.

And if you want to glimpse into the future of retail, check out one of the 10 Amazon Go stores in the U.S.

Walking into the grocery store, customers open the Amazon app and scan a QR code on their phone. You can then pick up whatever you want in the store and leave. No lining up, ditto for opening your wallet.

Humans vs. AI

So, should we start freaking out about AI taking over the world -- and our jobs?

Well, not really, according to Associate Professor James Curran, academic director of the Australian Computing Academy at the University of Sydney.

Good Times' AI voice assistant is actually just a "very specialised version" of the AI we've known and used for years such as Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google's assistant, Dr Curran told 10 daily.

While he hasn't seen AI used in a drive-thru environment before it is "starting to spread."

There's no doubt companies are looking at ways to minimise costs and increase efficiency ... but I'm not sure if we'll see a sudden rash of these particular AI voice assistants at Maccas in the next year or so, Curran said.

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There are a few reasons for this. One is that AI isn't yet particularly good at recognising speech in noisy environments -- ironically, such as a drive-thru.

AI also performs better in situations where the human-to-AI interactions are very restricted, such as simple conversations, and 'yes' or 'no' questions.

They don't respond to well to complex conversations or 'curve balls' as they simply don't have enough data or 'experience' to know how to respond.

Good news for Good Times is drive-thrus are all about speed and simplicity -- customers aren't after a lengthy and deep chat about the meaning of life, they just want to get a burger as quickly as possible.

Does Curran agree that introducing AI is going to steal workers' jobs and leave customers unsatisfied? Again, not really.

"People had the same reaction when banks introduced online banking but now we're so used to the convenience that the thought of physically going into a bank and speaking to a teller is so annoying," he said.

In his opinion, the jobs that AI could take over would be very basic, repetitive and likely low-paying -- giving workers the opportunity to take on more interesting and challenging roles.

At the end of the day, AI technology simply isn't sophisticated to replace the human ability to respond to infinite situations and stimuli -- such as a tricky burger order.

"If I was running a shop or restaurant I wouldn't be rushing to replace my customer service staff with artificial intelligence," he said.

Feature image: Twentieth Century Fox.

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