business news in context, analysis with attitude

…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• The Los Angeles Times reports that McDonald's has created a program that will allow people to begin the application process to work at its stores by talking to one of Amazon's Alexa-powered smart speakers or a Google Assistant-enabled device.

For example, "If users say, 'Alexa, help me get a job at McDonald’s,' Alexa will ask which country they want to work in and play McDonald’s catchy 'I’m lovin’ it' jingle. After that, users can share their phone number and get a link to continue the application process. Alexa also shares some facts about working for the company, such as how it can lead to jobs in other fields."

"For McDonald’s, voice-initiated hiring is a way to stand out in a tight job market," the story says. "The U.S. unemployment rate of 3.7% is near a 50-year low. Unemployment is also below 4% in the U.K. and Germany."

The Times goes on: "Applications by voice - dubbed McDonald’s Apply Thru - are also part of a broader effort to use technology to streamline every part of the restaurant, said David Fairhurst, McDonald’s executive vice president and chief people officer. For customers, that means digital ordering kiosks and mobile ordering; for employees, it means online scheduling and virtual reality games to train store managers."

TechCrunch reports that robotic pizza company Zume, in an effort to bolster its goal of "providing sustainable infrastructure for the restaurant industry," is partnering with the &pizza chain, "which operates 36 'fast-casual' locations" and now "will be utilizing Zume’s 'Forward Mobile Kitchen' trucks to expand outreach in its native Washington, D.C."

According to the story, "The food truck model opens the company to some new opportunities not always afforded by the standard brick and mortar model, including the ability to try out new neighborhoods and check the demand for different products … Zume’s offering is a combination of bespoke mobile kitchens that double as food trucks and delivery vehicles, combined with AI systems designed to better understand and respond to customer demand, based on location, traffic patterns and the like.
The deal isn’t make or break for Zume, but it’s an important step for a startup whose promises for profitability still appear fairly abstract from the outside."

Zume isn't the only one playing in this space. About a year ago, I wrote here about a company called Fleat that already was going down this road and, as I understand it, also is partnering with a pizza chain. To me, this is a strong indicator of where the world is going - mobile and empowered by AI, but highly focused on customer service.

VentureBeat reports that "as part of a continued mission to make its Alexa intelligent assistant more accessible for everyone, Amazon today introduced a new feature called Show and Tell, which helps blind and low vision customers with an Echo Show smart display identify common pantry goods (like canned or boxed foods) that can be difficult to distinguish by touch … To get started, say 'Alexa, what am I holding?' or 'Alexa, what’s in my hand?,' which will kick off verbal and audio cues that guide you to place the item you’d like to identify in front of the Echo Show’s camera."

According to the story, "Amazon says the feature was developed in close collaboration with blind Amazon employees, and that the development team gathered input and feedback from blind and low vision customers. Additionally, they worked with the Vista Center for the Blind in Santa Cruz and other organizations throughout the process."
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