The Drive-Thru Is About To Get Way Creepier

You might soon be ordering fast food from an AI that clones celebrities' voices.

It's no secret that artificial intelligence is shaping the world of fast food. Many of its most significant contributions have taken place behind the scenes, like when Shake Shack used AI to help design its menu, or when Jet's piloted an AI-powered text-based ordering system. On the more customer-facing side of things, we've seen how fast food is using AI to minimize human interaction, with multiple chains testing AI drive-thru ordering. Now, that system is about to get creepier, thanks to the magic of AI voice cloning.


The drive-thru AI voice will soon sound very familiar

QSR Magazine reports that Hi Auto, a provider of conversational AI tools for drive-thru lanes, now has technology available to clone an actual human's voice, based off of just a few minutes' worth of that person's recorded speech.


Recreating a stilted voice that sounds mildly like its base source is one thing, but Hi Auto claims its AI has the ability to capture a person's dialect, accent, and vocal tone. Yikes. Imagine placing your White Castle order with Gilbert Gottfried's digital doppelganger.

One chain restaurant, Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, is planning a test launch of this cloned voice feature in a few of its Ohio drive-thru locations. And no, we're not getting a George Clooney dupe just yet (imagine the licensing fees). The first digitally cloned order-taker will be former NFL player and sports broadcaster Keith Byars.

Byars currently hosts The Keith Byars Show on ESPN 1410 WING-AM in Dayton, Ohio. That means there are plenty of hours' worth of vocal samples Hi Auto's AI can use to assemble its audio clone.


Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken appears confident in Hi Auto's AI technology, as the two companies have been partners for three years. "This collaboration not only enhanced our labor efficiency by saving approximately 5-6 hours daily, but also significantly improved order consistency and upselling conversions," CEO Ryan Weaver said in a press release announcing the new voice cloning feature.

As a fast food customer, I'm conflicted. It's already unusual verbalizing one's order to a non-human system, but knowing it's one designed to sound like a celebrity feels even more uncomfortable, since the technology is going to work hard on upselling me.

And there's also the ongoing question of whether technology like this is effectively replacing human workers with computers. The industry likes to point out that the tech is a complement to the work that employees are already doing, and that when an AI powers the order box, the former order-taker simply moves their efforts to another restaurant task. But say that same restaurant combines an AI order-taking system with, for example, Flippy the robot's fry cook abilities, and you've theoretically come closer to nixing the job of at least one person.

Fast food operations are changing quickly, and AI's being tested in pretty much every facet of the industry. I guess digital voice clones were inevitable. I'm hoping we'll at least get Betty White on the horn to take my Burger King order someday, because at least I'd be mildly entertained while asking for my Whopper.