As if food service didn’t have enough to worry about, what with robots predicted to automate many of jobs and put employment of actual humans in jeopardy. Now, even those humans who still have kitchen jobs in the future may have to contend with Big Brother peeking over their shoulder as they work.
ECNS.com has a report up about an artificial intelligence system being installed in restaurant kitchens in the Shaoxing Province of China to monitor for unsanitary conditions. From that story:
The system will first “learn” from a large volume of videos about nonstandard work patterns such as staff not wearing a uniform and cap, dustbins without lids, and mixed use of cutting boards, Zheng Hongdi, a representative of Yuquan Technology Development Company which developed the system, told the Global Times on Monday.
Installed cameras will monitor the kitchen, and if they catch unsanitary behaviors, as analyzed by the AI, an alert is sent to the manager. The system will also be hooked into equipment like fridges to detect any anomalies that might cause problems. Though ECNS didn’t report specifics, presumably error detection would be around temperature controls, etc..
The program is starting out in 15 restaurants and catering companies that are 3,000 square meters (~3,200 sq. feet) or larger. Should all go well, that number will eventually hit 10,000 cameras in 1,000 kitchens.
It could be tempting to dismiss this news, as it is happening in China, which exerts much stricter government controls over its society.
But reading that story this morning made me immediately think of PathSpot, the wall mounted device that looks for poop on restaurant employees hands. PathSpot wants to gamify getting employees to properly wash up, which is much less intrusive than a bank of surveillance cameras watching you leave the bathroom, but you can also see it as the tip of a spear for automating even more of a restaurant’s sanitation practices here in the U.S.
It’s not hard to understand why restaurants would want to automate such a thing. As I wrote last year when covering PathSpot:
According to the Center for Disease Control, 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. To put it in cold, monetary terms, a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost a fast casual restaurant anywhere between $6,330 to $2.1 million.
Being able to mitigate that risk — and save money — though technologies like AI or PathSpot’s fluorescent spectroscopy is an attractive proposition for restaurants. But that does mean a surveillance state for those working in the back of the house. Restaurants already have security cameras, but soon they’ll be plugged into the software that analyzes worker behavior and narcs on them when something goes wrong.
You can also see AI creep into the front of the house with technology like Presto‘s. It’s a wearable device servers don to help with customer service, but it uses AI and predictive modeling to help with inventory and labor costs. What else could it monitor?
As a consumer (and someone who worked in a restaurant and saw more than a few unsavory things), I like the idea of a cleaner kitchen and more sanitary cooking practices anywhere I eat. But for a worker, I can imagine how nerve wracking it could feel knowing that your every move is being watched and any deviation is being reported.