Human operators from the Philippines supporting AI drive-thru systems at US fast-food chains.

Revealed: US AI Drive-Thrus Rely on Human Labor from the Philippines

In a surprising revelation, the AI-operated drive-thru systems used by fast-food chains such as Checkers and Carl’s Jr. are not as autonomous as they appear. According to a Bloomberg report, these systems heavily depend on outsourced laborers, particularly from countries like the Philippines, to ensure accurate customer service.

Presto Automation, the company behind these drive-thru systems, disclosed in its recent filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that “off-site agents” are employed to assist its “Presto Voice” chatbots in over 70% of customer interactions. This reliance on human intervention challenges the perception of AI as a fully independent technology.

A tech consultant, Shelly Palmer commented on this development, stating, “There is so much hype around AI that everyone is misunderstanding this tool. Everybody thinks that AI is some magic.” This sentiment reflects a growing realization in the tech industry that AI, while advanced, still requires significant human input to function effectively.

Further scrutiny of Presto’s operations arose when the SEC informed the company in July that it would be under investigation for claims “regarding certain aspects of technology.” However, specific details about this investigation remain undisclosed to the public.

Initially, Presto’s website boasted that its AI could handle up to 95% of drive-thru orders “without any human intervention.” However, in a shift towards greater transparency, this claim was modified in November to state that 95% of orders are processed “without any restaurant or staff intervention.” This change in messaging aligns with Presto’s new marketing approach, which acknowledges the critical role of human workers in supporting the AI system.

During a recent earnings call, Presto’s CEO, Xavier Casanova, emphasized the importance of human agents in their operations: “Our human agents enter, review, validate and correct orders. Human agents will always play a role in ensuring order accuracy.” This statement highlights the need for human oversight in AI-driven systems, particularly in customer-facing industries.

The revelation about Presto’s reliance on human labor from countries like the Philippines underscores the complexities and challenges of implementing AI in real-world applications. It also raises questions about the future of AI in the service industry and the balance between technological innovation and human labor.



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