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Within the next decade, you might never need to talk to a fast-food employee when you order a cheeseburger combo meal.
That’s according to Greg Creed, the CEO of Yum Brands (the food company that operates fast food chains like KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut).
In an interview with CNBC, he said AI, robots, and automation could start replacing workers in the global food services industry by the mid-2020s.
A number of Pizza Hut locations in Japan and Shanghai already have robots, called Pepper and Casper, that can greet, interact with, and take orders from customers. In 2016, Taco Bell introduced TacoBot, an AI-powered ordering service that integrates with the messaging platform Slack. Customers can place orders, ask questions, and pay for their food using the platform. It’s only available as a beta version right now at select outside companies, including Giphy and Thought Catalog.
Several other chains have been experimenting with automating the ordering process as well. McDonald’s, Panera Bread, and Wendy’s have self-serve kiosks at many locations, where customers place orders on touch-screens. Fast-casual chain Eatsa eliminated interaction between workers and customers entirely when it launched in San Francisco in 2015. People order with iPads, and their meals (prepared by human employees in the back) appear in designated cubbies within minutes.
Automating human labor certainly lowers costs. In 2016, former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi warned that more fast-food chains will replace human employees with robots if the minimum wage raises above $15.
Creed, on the other hand, is a bit more hopeful about human workers – at least for now.
“We don’t make a lot of things until customers order,” he told CNBC. “I don’t see it changing people’s jobs in the short term.”