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That human can, if properly trained and motivated, recognize when the coffee being served isn't coming out right. They can interface with customers and resolve complicated human problems, de-escalating when necessary to find a good outcome.

A robot has no way of knowing if the coffee will taste good or contains rat poison. It's just going through the motions. If it serves you a dud drink you can't argue with it, you just got scammed. Post an angry Yelp review if it makes you feel better.




That's an argument for having a higher-value problem-solving employee around, not an argument for having several lower-value button-pushing employees around.

Fewer, higher value employees has been the trend in many industries for the past few hundred thousand years.


Or for better sensors on the robot. There's no fundamental reason it can't tell if the drink is correct.


The fundamental reason it can't tell if the drink is correct is that "correct" is in the eye of the beholder. You cannot trivially formalize expectations any random human would have of a drink made by human.

You can, however, force people to lower their expectations until they can be trivially formalized. That's what happens with tea/coffee vending machines. The dispensed drink is really bad, but it's uniformly bad, and since people don't expect quality coffee from a vending machine, they don't complain.


You can get better espresso out of the lavazza coffee machine on palatine hill in Rome than is served in many cafes in this world. So technologically it sure is possible to do better.


Why do we need an extra person? There's already a human present, the customer. Let them submit the feedback and fix their coffee at the same time.


I don't want to get through the hurdle of contacting Big Co. through an automated form when the vending machine has scammed me. It's way easier with a human operator. Ever tried to dial into a call center and waited like 30 minutes after navigating through voice menus in order to talk to an actual human to fix your problem?


The way this is going to work, to use McDonald's as an example, is that instead of having 40-50 total people operating a normal franchise location across 2 or 3 shifts, you're going to have 15-20.

The cashiers are gone. The fry cook is gone. The drive-thru order taker is gone. The cooks are gone.

You'll still have a preparer that will probably also do running (they'll bag the multiple, separate items up and take them to the front). You'll have a shift manager that will help with a bit of everything (eg if a customer has a problem with the order kiosk or payment). You'll still have a human cleaning the building and parking lot, taking out trash. There will also obviously be people routinely involved in machine maintenance, installation, etc.

There will be some complication with condiments and food layering. There will probably be a position for food ammo reloader, that keeps the machines loaded with whatever that machine cooks / prepares.

It would be possible to get rid of the bagger/runner, but it'd probably be cost prohibitive and needlessly complex to assemble the various robots on a line that could also bag properly.

At its best, eventually, this system will produce more food (1.5x to 4x I'd guess), at a lower per customer cost, with superior food safety (including hygiene). Then it's a question of how much of that gain gets competed away (benefiting customers) and how much goes into the pocket of the owners.

Starbucks will be similar. They won't get rid of all their humans, they'll reduce their number significantly.

It's likely to be a decades long, piece by piece, transition. The early results won't be spectacular for either customers or franchise owners, it'll take many years of gradual improvement.


The reason I buy coffee at a coffee shop is because I want it done properly, and "properly" is largely a subjective thing. A good shop will have someone who's intimately familiar with what they're preparing and will tune the machine at multiple times per day to get the right result.

A robot just does what it's told.

Starbucks used to have manual machines and the results were...variable. Some days you'd get a substandard drink, but if you got someone who knew what they were doing, the results were fantastic.

It's like before the coffee would be anywhere beteween a 6 and 9 out of 10. Now they're consistently 7.5 out of 10 every time. Boring, predictable, never bad, but never great.


That's probably why humans start hitting vending machines when they just gobble up the cash and fail to operate properly.


> A robot has no way of knowing if the coffee will taste good or contains rat poison

Eventually automated systems ought to be able to do this better than most people can. Why couldn't there be engineered sensors that could detect such things very well?


Because there is no theory linking interaction of molecules to flavour yet, although there are some preliminary work from some labs on this (with beer)


Seeing as humans don't usually taste their coffee before serving, identifying flavour is probably not strictly necessary to the task.

And given that the act of making good-enough coffee isn't a very difficult task (given how readily available and quickly trained "baristas" are), and how mechanical the process is already, im not sure there's anything to suggest it isn't do-able. Its more likely a matter of cost and scale


Smelling is already a form of tasting, just like looking at how it behaves because we humans are really good at combining our senses to get the input we look for, that's why most people usually don't taste the coffee before serving, unless it's smelling/looking funny while brewing.

Replicating this with electrical sensors is a pretty complex task we still haven't managed to get working, after all we are not only talking about replicating the sense of taste but also the sense of smelling and how they interact with each other.


You don't actually have to replicate the interaction though, you just need to identify the particular range of smells that people accept, and have the machine capable of detecting it.

Generating a brand new style of good coffee might need the interaction though


But different people are accepting of different tastes and even those change with age, what people accept as nice smelling/tasting food can be quite subjective because the very same smell can be overpowering to some while appealing to others.

How to calibrate a sensor for something like that on a per user basis? I don't know, but apparently it's possible because "electronic noses" do exist but are mostly used in laboratory settings, probably on account of their price.

There's also a reason why we still use pigs and dogs for work that require good smelling senses, like search&rescue or truffle foraging. Training these animals is very expensive, but it still seems to be the cheaper option compared to building "smellobots", so I doubt smelling sensor are far enough along to be put into a ton of kitchen bots at small cost.


Its more likely a matter of cost and scale

This is not a trivial matter! Cost is entirely the reason a host of technologically-possible automation hasn't happened outside a lab.


I said "eventually". Are you saying it will never be possible?


Never is a long time, but it's also a theroetical.

The sun will eventually engulf the Earth rendering this argument irreelvant.


It works both ways, though. I was responding to a claim with an implicit "never" possible. Like you say, such a claim is theoretical, and I wanted to ask how that person knew it would never be possible.

Smell, taste and poison are all matters of physical molecules and how these interact with human physiology. We already understand these to some extent. We can already build devices that can detect some of these things to some extent. We have no grounds to say it's impossible for a human-level ability of it to be engineered. (Note that lack of positive evidence against X is not the same as positive evidence for X).


This would be so much easier if we just replaced the consumer with a more efficient AI.




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