With the release of Rogue I, I got to thinking about robots…and pizza. I haven’t seen anybody eat pizza in that Galaxy far, far away, but I assume the Universe’s most popular dish has to be on the Cantina menu where Han used to hang out with his freaky pals. So C3PO and R2D2 are cute and helpful and all, but the sci fi nightbots of my scary dreams download more like the bad cop terminator with the morphing pointer impaler in TII; or maybe those nasty bug-looking contraptions in The Matrix that burrowed into Morpheus’ hovercraft and Neo’s navel.
My future vision is definitely right-brain framed, so I tend to share Will Smith’s skepticism in I, Robot about his nemeses’ suitability to write symphonies, paint masterpieces and craft a really good pizza.
Julia Collins and her human business partner Alex Garden are the owners of Zume Pizza, a Silicon Valley startup that’s likely the first pizzeria in the world to partner humans with pizza-making robots. The pizzabots at Zume don’t really look like their movie star cousins. They don’t roll around the workspace warning, “Danger, Will Robinson!” They’re more like seamless, functional machines-in-motion, spreading pizza sauce evenly or hoisting dough with mechanical limbs to the tune of 288 pizzas an hour for delivery by oven-equipped trucks in an average of under 15 minutes.
Bot friendly Collins doesn’t see her automated pizzaioli as Robot Overlords. “We’re a co-bot environment,” she says, noting that, for now, Zume still employs humans. Air breathers, it turns out, are still too good at one vital pizza activity to hand over full control to their botmates. Humans hand-place toppings like pepperonis, mushrooms and peppers nice and pretty. But despite their aesthetic shortfalls, and limitations in other interpersonal pursuits like chatting up customers, robots have apparently advanced enough for Zume to schedule the Mountain View, California store for full automation in 2017. Zume’s ‘shrooms—and even their sausages and stuff—will be handed over to the pincers of hotbot pizza chefs with cool, friendly names like Bruno, Jojo, Pepe, Marta and Vincenzo.
Zume is putting actions where its obligation is, offering carbon-based employees tuition subsidies, teaching-English-as-a-second-language opportunities and even some volunteers a chance to go to graphic design school. One Tweeter, whom I’m guessing never mastered InDesign, ain’t buying it: “Future story: Zume closes! No one can afford to buy pizza after losing jobs to automation.”
I’ve interviewed dozens of elite pizza chef—all born to mothers and not created in labs. They might not be big Domino’s fans, but they fully back Doyle’s statement. Pizza maestros like Lee Hunzinger, Guilio Adriani and Gennaro Luciano, whose family basically invented the modern pizzeria in the 19th Century back in Milan, are on the same page. They attest passionately that love, training and mentorship—human interaction built upon years of attempts, successes and yes, failures—are the only reliable ingredients in pizza perfection. My friend, U.S. Pizza Team Lead Culinary Consultant Gino Rago, owner of Panino’s Pizzeria in Chicago, defines these terms in the original old-school Italian: “Passione and Fantasia.” The first translation of “fantasia” in the Italian-to-English dictionary is: