Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
AI in the Restaurant: The Story of Robbie the Robot
There is much talk and fear about AI and the use of robotics and robots in everyday work, such as in restaurants, in retail, in warehousing, in manufacturing etc.
There is the fear that robots will replace workers and take over their jobs and the perennial, that intelligent machines will start considering people as a planetary plague that has to be eliminated. Does anyone remember “I Robot” of Isaac Asimov’s and the “Three Laws of Robotics”? I’m old enough to remember it.
In my teens and early twenties I was an avid reader of Science Fiction and I still have many of the Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Orwell, L. Sprague de Camp etc. books. My dog-eared copies of Nineteen Eighty Four, The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Childhood’s End, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and many more, still rest in the bookshelf next to my bed. To many of my generation they were terrifying probabilities of a possible future to come.
In 2014, a non-fiction book by Nick Bostrom called “Superintelligence; Paths, Dangers, Strategies” became a Times best seller. The thesis was that AI might pose a danger that exceeds every previous threat from technology -- even the threat of nuclear weapons -- and that if its development is not managed carefully, humanity risks engineering its own extinction.
I’m happy none of these “predictions” has come to pass. Yet.
Though, unfortunately, we came close to a fulfillment of Nineteen Eighty Four’s “Newspeak” with the “alternate facts” pronouncements from a White House press secretary a few years back. And not to mention the current book banning from libraries that could easily become a book burning exercise as predicted in Fahrenheit 451.
Actually, in 2018 I met R1-B1 “Robbie” a robotic bartender at a restaurant in Canada. He was quite charming, could answer questions intelligently and would “flirt” with female customers sitting at his bar.
Robbie was a great mixologist, creating some outstanding cocktails. He made for me a good martini and he executed perfectly the order “vodka martini; shaken not stirred and hold the fruit” as I gave it to him. And when he served it, he held the olive speared on a toothpick in his “hand” and showed it to me… I guess that was his fulfillment of “hold the fruit”!
Since that was way before the advent of modern AI, I believe there was an operator working Robbie wirelessly and by CCTV could see and hear what was going on at the bar so that he could react and chat accordingly. And, obviously, he had a good sense of humor!
Initially, Robbie was a great promotion for the restaurant and brought in many curious customers. The place was jammed. However, once the novelty wore off, the restaurant’s clientele thinned considerably because, at that point, the kitchen was not particularly great. And in Eastern Canada, if the dishes are not outstanding the restaurant doesn’t survive for long. When the restaurant first opened, it had a terrific female chef de cuisine; but once she was gone, her replacement was a mediocre chef who was better at promoting his “abilities” than actually creating great dishes in the kitchen. Eventually, after a couple years, the place closed.
So, I don’t think AI will replace humanity… yet!
Some myopic businesses will try to replace workers with AI but I just don’t see it happening at a grand scale soon.
Perhaps I’m mistaken, perhaps I’m not. I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m not a prophet. But I have great trust in humanity’s adaptability and strength in overcoming its fears.
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