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How Artificial Intelligence in Restaurant Technology can Benefit Your Business

Artificial intelligence and machine learning innovations continue to break into the restaurant industry. So, what does that mean for operators?

Editors Note: HotSchedules recently launched our very own podcast — The OpX Podcast, where each month we’ll examine the news, trends, technology, and best practices impacting the restaurant industry. This blog contains portions of the conversation from our inaugural episode, which you can listen to in full on iTunes and Google Play!

Artificial intelligence is gaining a stronger foothold with consumers. Just think about it — Netflix gives you movie and television suggestions. Your spam filter tags your junk emails. Siri and Alexa recognize your voice by now.

Artificial intelligence is no longer a concept reserved for comic books and Steven Spielberg movies. In reality, this technology takes many forms in our daily lives. And experts agree that the innovations in the space will only continue to grow, touching our lives in more ways than we can imagine.

Don’t freak out just yet, though — that’s not to say that robots will replace humans! Rather, these innovations are intended to enhance the human experience and to create efficiencies for businesses.

In this blog, HotSchedules Chief Technology Officer Brian Gaffney helps us explore the exciting world of AI and its practical applications through machine learning, robotics and most importantly — the role humans play as the technology evolves.

What are AI, Machine Learning, and Robotics?

Let’s start with the basics. AI, itself, is a broad term that covers an entire field of computer science. And according to Gaffney, it’s not as recent a development as some might think.

“An early conversation about AI can be traced back to a conference at Dartmouth University in 1956 where technology experts asked themselves: ‘What’s next?’” Gaffney says. “AI was one of their answers. Today, other technologies fall under the broad umbrella of AI, including machine learning and robotics.”

Let’s take a closer look at these technologies.

Artificial Intelligence: Mimicking human intelligence

“AI is the study and design of intelligent, independent agents,” explains Gaffney. “Agents are autonomous machines or applications that perceive and adapt to their environments without having to be programmed. They’re able to take in and process information and feedback and make adjustments on the fly. They mimic human intelligence in tasks like planning, learning, problem-solving, and perception. Examples are speech recognition or anything involving crunching massive amounts of numbers.”

Machine Learning: More shortcuts and fewer mistakes

“This involves learning without being explicitly programmed,” says Gaffney. “Machine learning creates programs by processing massive amounts of data to effectively ‘train the system’ versus hard-coding software routines with specific instructions.”

Benefits of machine learning include:

  • creating shortcuts
  • reducing human mistakes

Machine learning examples include:

  • spam detection
  • automated home thermostats
  • finance and credit decision-making apps
  • GPS mapping programs

Robotics: Replicating human action, faster

“Robotics involves taking tasks out of the hands of humans and letting machines perform the functions,” Gaffney explains. “The strengths include being able to replicate human actions faster and more efficiently without needing to rest and without the risks of mistakes. An example is the robotic floor vacuuming technology, Roomba, that is already in many homes and offices.”

What’s Next in Restaurant AI Innovations?

Far from outsmarting humans and making us a subservient species (think: Westworld), AI is bringing many valuable benefits to restaurants.

Here are just a few ways that restaurants can benefit from AI and machine learning innovations:

  • AI can provide insight that informs smarter decision-making, such as predictive analytics in sales and inventory forecasting.
  • Machine learning can improve and enhance customer experiences, such as through voice recognition that greets customers.
  • Robots can handle boring repetitive work like flipping burger patties.
  • Robots can also do the dirty work, like mopping floors.

Automation frees up managers and staff from boring tasks, giving them more time to spend with customers. Machine learning can also provide insights that help managers meet their business goals through more accurate forecasting, enabling critical decisions on the fly, and assessing each day’s results — all without chaining a manager to the back office. AI will never replace a restaurant manager, but it does have the capability to teach managers and enhance their performance.

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