The owner of Taco Bell and Pizza Hut has declared that it’s going “AI-first” in running its businesses.

“If you thinking about the major journeys within a restaurant that can be AI-powered,” explained the company’s chief digital and technology officer in a recent Wall Street Journal article. “We’ve believe it’s endless.”

This has very little to do with tacos or pizzas.

Instead, the Journal noted that fast-food businesses want AI to help cut costs and increase efficiency. Labor costs are up and consumers aren’t terribly amenable to price increases.

So, AI will push more tacos out the door more quickly an cheaply, mostly by streamlining processes so less people are needed to deliver them, then replace those people who’re left with AI whenever and wherever possible.

Push tacos out the door is a bluntly simple and fundamentally accurate management consultant concept of business purpose. It isn’t confused by statements about quality of life, or risk distraction by promises regarding the environment.

There’s no money in being people or planet-first, just complexity, and expectations for better tacos or happier customers are too fuzzy to have any currency with investors.

“AI first” is buzz-worthy to investors looking at the spread between costs and sales. Forget tacos; buy shares in the company because it makes great AI.

The robot dreams are already on the whiteboard, according to the Journal story. The parent company’s e-commerce vendor could use AI to increase the orders it handles more than six-fold. Restaurants could use machine learning to place better and more timely supply orders. Customer data could be shared across brands to fine-tune their offers (and, I assume, pricing) to maximize their order size and profits.

Companies have been using tech to improve their performance for centuries and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with automating processes and services. I’m also not a big fan of waiting too long to get an order fulfilled or, once received, discovering that quality isn’t consistent. Make things better and delight your shareholders.

But there are some “big” questions that Taco Bell’s owners are challenging us to ask:

Will people want to work at a business that has publicly vowed to take people out of their business? Will they really want to help the company figure out how to replace them with robots?

Will customers want to patronize a business that may, at some point not too far down the road, have no people working it its outlets? Will they value the delivery of tacos sans any human interaction, however imperfect they might once have been? Will they stay loyal to a business that doesn’t value their species?

Will the business transformation wrought by AI tools comport with the expectations of the technicians who enable it? What happens when robots hallucinate the outcomes of their work, or AI advises courses of action that take the businesses down paths that will be harder to “re-humanize” should they prove wrong?

Will investors continue to value business that don’t value people? At some point, is doing damage to employee compensation and the communities/economic well-being that depend on it become the new environmental crime?

“Our vision…is that an AI-first mentality works every step of the way,” said the company’s top tech executive in the Journal.

But robots don’t eat tacos.

[This essay appeared originally at Spiritual Telegraph]