Show us the sauce code... Wendy's and Google to test drive-thru order-taking bot
What's worse for humanity: The slow, cruel eradication of labor, or those square patties?
Wendy's and Google have together built a chatbot for taking drive-thru orders, using large language models and generative AI.
The system works by converting spoken fast-food orders to text that can be processed by Google's large language model. A generative component added to the system is designed to make the chatbot interact with people in a more natural and conversational manner, so that it's less rigid and robotic.
The completed model was trained to recognize specific phrases or acronyms customers typically use when ordering, such as "JBC" describing Wendy's junior bacon cheeseburger, "Frosties" milkshakes, or its combination meal "biggie bags." Unsurprisingly, the chatbot, like human workers, will gladly offer to upsize meals or add more items to an order since it has been programmed to try and persuade hungry patrons to spend more cash.
It's the sort of story we could imagine on the Computer Chronicles in the 1990s, but it's 2023 and this drive-thru bot has all sorts of next-gen neural network tech that's apparently needed.
"You may think driving by and speaking into a drive-through is an easy problem for AI, but it's actually one of the hardest," said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud.
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Wendy's will try out its AI-powered drive-thru service in June at a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, in a deal first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Up to 80 percent of orders are reportedly placed by customers at the burger slinger's drive-thru lanes, an increase of 30 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic.
CEO Todd Penegor said he believes that automating the ordering process with AI will speed up the food-generation pipeline, allowing Wendy's to serve more customers. Long queues of cars in the drive-thru service put people off, and the new system could speed up throughput. Penagor said his company is not looking to replace workers with AI, even though the new chatbot seems to be doing just that.
"It's at least as good as our best customer service representative, and it's probably on average better," CIO Kevin Vasconi added, based on early trial results.
It's not the first time a fast-food chain has rolled out software from Big Tech to automate its drive-thru lanes. McDonald's in-house tech team, McD Tech Labs, was acquired by IBM in 2021, and the franchise uses Big Blue's natural language processing software for its chatbots.
The technology, however, is often glitchy. Funny videos shared on TikTok show the chatbot making mistakes, adding wrong items to orders. In one case, the McDonald's system seemingly added 21 McNuggets meal orders totaling over $200. Wendy's will be hoping its upcoming AI chatbot will be less error-prone. ®