Since the release of Chat GPT, the future of education and jobs has been uncertain. Movies like Elysium and I Am Legend and TV series like Black Mirror can’t be closer to what we’re facing now.
The Boston Globe released an article almost a week ago that showed local engineers testing robots to pick ingredients to make a food bowl in under 2 minutes. Before that, on March 5, 2020, they also released another article about Alfred, a robot who would help in the kitchen. This robot was unveiled in Cambridge by Dexai Robotics as an automated robot for the hospitality business. Reading about this makes me super uncomfortable. Not because I’m opposed to the future but because a restaurant run by robots doesn’t align well in my mind. There are electronic gadgets that assist chefs and cooks with prep to make it easier, but that is entirely different.
If you have worked in the culinary industry, you’d be familiar with the ups and downs, the hectic pace, and the stress, but it’s what makes it part of the experience. If not, I invite you to see The Bear and Burnt as those are two accurate depictions of working in a kitchen.
In 2016, four MIT engineering students invented an automated mini restaurant called Spyce Kitchen, which featured a refrigerator, dishwasher, stovetop, and a robot “chef” that cooked and served meals with fresh ingredients in under five minutes. The idea was generated to make healthy foods for graduates under $8. The team won $10,000 Eat it! Lemelson-MIT undergraduate prize for the invention, which served students in an MIT dining hall. Two years later after getting approval from USDA and FDA, they opened in Cambridge.
Spyce managed to recruit Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud to be the culinary director. The Robot Report shared news that the company was acquired in August 2021 by Sweetgreen, a fast-casual restaurant chain that served salads and other healthier options.
While you can imagine this 2040 scenario as if it was a science fiction movie, the idea of incorporating robots into a kitchen has been going around since 2015. UK-based company Moley Robotics released a prototype claiming that the system does not cook like a machine and reproduces human movements. The company used the services of a “real-life chef to teach the prototype robot extra dexterity.” Fast forward to 2023, and the company is gearing to start installing its automatic robot system in actual homes.
Moley can handle pots, pans, and utensils, operate the touch-based induction cooktop and other intelligent appliances, pour and mix ingredients, plate meals and clean up messes. Optical cameras and sensors map ingredients, cookware, and other system components so that the hands can locate what they need. According to Moley, they plan to add a “commercial-grade robotic kitchen model to keep up with the fast pace of restaurant kitchens while churning out multiple portions of precisely prepared meals.”
I sat down and thought what benefits it could add having robots in a kitchen and replacing humans and, at the same time what could be the cons. I share them with you:
|Improve accuracy||A busy restaurant with long lines and waiting time can put pressure on the customer and cashier, even the kitchen too, which can lead to mistakes in orders. Having robotics prepare the food means that the meals would be cooked according to specifications and with no errors.|
|Improvements in customer service||Running a kitchen with robots means there would be an improvement in customer service. Far quicker time from the moment a customer arrives at the restaurant sits down, makes an order, and finally enjoys their meal.|
|Productivity increase||Robots wouldn’t have to take sick days, vacations, or breaks. No lawsuits for injuries would have to be filed.|
|Savings||A business with robots in the kitchen would be able to handle absent employees, sickness calls, or tardiness. Robots would be there 24/7.|
|Smaller payroll||Robots would be making orders. While you’d only pay “human employees” to deal with customer service because, well, robots can’t interact with a customer and give a good service, right?|
|Ethical||The current debate for the past few weeks is “will robots replace humans in the workplace?” We have slowly started seeing daily news about top tech companies, art companies, and layoffs. We’ve been told that robots would be created to do complicated tasks that can be a danger to a human, like a janitor mopping. Why do we continue to see students in college relying on Chat GPT to make their essays or companies depending on this to do new artwork?|
|Lack of emotional connection||Eating is a social event. It doesn’t matter for lunch, or dinner is how people connect. You make an automated type of restaurant, and you remove human contact connections, which will contribute to loneliness and even an increase in depression statistics. As Restaurantware adds, “not a lot of people are patient when a robot communicates with the same automated response.”|
|Temperature controls||Every product in a kitchen needs to be categorized, labeled, and placed at the cooling or freezer stations at the correct temperature. Once a product is taken out, it needs to be put back; otherwise, it suffers from temperature abuse. No matter what is being told, I wouldn’t expect a robot to identify correctly the ingredient (food or vegetable) to be made or cooked at the right temperature.|
|Chemical exposure||Robots wouldn’t transmit viruses or germs, making them “safer,” but technically, they can expose chemicals you would later consume. You wouldn’t see it. I wouldn’t believe that a kitchen run by robots would be completely safe.|
|Lack of creativity||Every meat and food will taste the same due to the automated cooking process. There would need to be a way to add new ingredients, herbs, or spices to take the recipe to a new level.|
|High costs||A “human manager” would still have to pay extra attention to managing the budget for warranties, maintenance, and hiring a service technician. Having a Plan B if one of your robots is having trouble training a staff member to take over would be a good thing. As the saying goes, “every minute costs money.”|
|Meat terms would not be cooked on term||A robot won’t be able to know the correct minutes for each meat term. If you order your meat ‘medium,’ it will come ‘well done.’ Robots won’t be able to pay attention to this.|
|Inability to solve complicated problems||What if the customer has an allergy and intolerance? Having an automated kitchen puts you at a disadvantage. We’re used to giving instructions to a “human waiter so that the situation can be addressed and worked in a kitchen by a “human chef.” Having a pre-programmed kitchen won’t be able to deal with it as they wouldn’t be programmed to one setting.|
For some individuals, cooking is an excellent method of relaxing and being creative, so if you put a robot as a replacement, it would feel out of place. For the workaholics, this would be a lifesaver. A human would still have to pay attention to its robots as it would still have its blind spots, no way of visualizing surroundings, or the location of an ingredient or utensil that was moved or knocked out of place. I’ve read comments that this would be a great addition to the elderly, but it would still need someone for maintenance. It’s not to say I’m reluctant to face the “future of technology,” but I love cooking and stick to doing it myself. We need to stop saying that robots in a kitchen will monitor food and quality; they will not. More people will suffer from new diseases and succumb to them due to processed food. We will be living in a world like Wall-E. I’ll stick to buying my food and cooking it. And lastly, I’ll keep up to date with the latest updates on technology and science, Elon Musk, and Tesla Bots.
*Chat GPT did not write this.