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An ‘AI’ fast food drive-thru is mostly just human workers in the Philippines

Artificial intelligence-powered drive-thru company Presto Automation described itself as “one of the largest labor automation technology providers in the industry,” and boasted its ability to increase sales and “save” human labor time.

But according to recent filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, off-site human workers are stepping in and completing over 70 percent of orders.

Despite the company’s branding and marketing suggesting magical drive-in tech, Presto Automation uses workers in places like the Philippines, according to Bloomberg. The AI drive-thru technology is used by fast food restaurants including Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Del Taco, and Checkers across the country, promising to lower labor costs and increase revenue for chains. The Presto Voice product is supposed to use AI to take customers’ drive-thru orders.

There’s a pattern of AI “solutions” that actually end up being contractors

Bloomberg reports that the SEC notified Presto Automation earlier this year that it was under investigation “regarding certain aspects of its AI technology.” Presto Automation didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

There’s a pattern of AI “solutions” that actually end up being contractors working in countries with lower labor costs — and often, the AI companies work hard to conceal this fact. An online shopping app called Nate, popular with influencers and content creators, said it used AI to auto-fill customers’ checkout details. But it was revealed that the company had hired workers in the Philippines to manually complete orders in a majority of cases. Other startups have similarly marketed human labor as being “AI.”

In an earlier Bloomberg report testing the technology at a Del Taco restaurant, an executive for the restaurant chain told the outlet that Presto reduced the kitchen team’s handling of orders by about 70 percent. Interesting!

The restaurant industry’s experiments with AI have led to fears around how staff could be replaced by their robot co-workers. But in this case, the replacement of labor isn’t contingent on AI at all — companies just need a workforce somewhere else that they can hire for cheaper.

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