The Proliferation of AI: Will Robots Replace Fast Food Drive-Through Operators?

Category Artificial Intelligence

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Wendy's and Google Cloud have recently announced that the fast food chain will be piloting a custom-designed AI for drive-through food ordering. The AI, dubbed 'FreshAI', is a large language model trained on data from Wendy's menu, the chain's business rules, and basic conversation logic, designed to reduce miscommunications and order errors. Customers will be able to interact with the AI through words and have their orders confirmed on a screen, as Wendy's plans to expand their late night hours with the AI in use.

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The recent proliferation of generative AI models—which are now being used to produce online search results, make art, help with customer service calls, and much more—has heightened fears of technological unemployment. Though AI is ultimately likely to create more jobs than it renders obsolete, it will indeed render some obsolete, and it seems that among these will be fast food drive-through operators.

Google and Wendy's have been collaboratign since 2021

Last week, Wendy’s and Google Cloud announced that the fast food chain will be piloting a custom-designed AI for drive-through food ordering. Wendy’s FreshAI, as the technology’s been dubbed, will reportedly give drive-through customers a better ordering experience by reducing miscommunications and errors. Since customers can tweak the restaurant’s offerings to their liking—hold the mustard, pile on some extra pickles, take out the onion and sub in more lettuce—the order combinations are endless, and the companies believe an algorithm can do a better job of keeping it all straight than a human can.

The algorithm was trained with data from Wendy's menu, business rules and conversation logic

The partnership between Wendy’s and Google isn’t new. The companies started collaborating in 2021, when the fast food chain started using Google Cloud’s data analytics, AI, and hybrid cloud tools for mobile ordering and other convenient ways for "customers to access the brand." With their new agreement, they’re looking to take orders from drive-through customers with an AI chatbot.

Wendy’s FreshAI is a large language model (LLM), a type of deep learning algorithm trained on large datasets (as large as the entire internet, in some cases) to learn the relationships between words and the probability of different words preceding or following one another in a sentence. LLMs establish parameters that allow them to generate text based on prompts—or, in the case of ChatGPT and Wendy’s FreshAI, respond to questions from users in a human-like way in real time. The algorithm was trained on data from Wendy’s menu, the chain’s business rules, and basic conversation logic. It will be able to have conversations with customers and answer their questions, as well as confirming their orders on a screen and relaying them to the cooks inside.

The AI is at least as good as Wendy's best customer service representative, and possibly better

"It will be very conversational," Wendy’s CEO, Todd Penegor, told the Wall Street Journal. "You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee." .

The chain’s chief information officer, Kevin Vasconi, gave the AI a hearty endorsement, saying, "It’s at least as good as our best customer service representative, and it’s probably on average better." .

The algorithm was trained to answer frequently asked questions, so it could be interesting (and entertaining) to hear what it comes up with in response to not-so-frequently-asked questions. The AI will doubtless have some perplexing late-night interactions with hungry, impatient, and inebriated customers who just want to dip their fries in a chocolate milkshake (or as Wendy’s calls it, a Frosty). In fact, Penegor said the chain plans to expand its hours and "lean into late night." .

The AI was designed to reduce miscommunications and order errors

Google has likely built some filters into the AI to weed out any inappropriate or off-topic content, but at some point, when the bots become sophisticated enough (or customers become bored or desperate enough), questions about philosophy and the nature of reality might creep in.

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