Earlier this week, Pizza Hut unveiled plans to launch a fleet of driverless delivery vans - a sign that automation has reached the world of greasy comfort food. Then the chain did something pizza makers rarely do: It offered an economic theory on Twitter.
After a user pointed out that driverless cars could destroy the need for drivers, Pizza Hut said the technology might just boost demand for human workers.
"It actually could create more jobs by opening the pool of 'drivers' to those who do not own vehicles," Pizza Hut tweeted Tuesday. "They might act more as servers, focusing on hospitality."
This statement from a brand account touches on a topic economists have been debating since robots started changing the way we work: Will machines steal our jobs, or will they unleash other employment options?
"It's hard to forecast exactly what is going to happen," said David Beede, an economist at the Department of Commerce. "Workers in occupations that deliver goods and services, like pizza delivery people - those types of work activities are most at risk of displacement by self-driving vehicles."
It's too early to know what such displacement could look like, he said. Delivery drivers could face mass layoffs, or some could transition into roles the Pizza Hut brand account hinted at on Twitter.
"Instead of driving, they could do more customer service work," he said, such as monitoring the vehicles, making sure they're running correctly and answering customer questions on the status of their pizza delivery.
Though Ford, General Motors, Google, Apple and other companies have all poured major resources into driverless cars, the models have a long way to go before they flood American roads.
"These technologies don't work perfectly yet," said Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, the consulting group's economics research arm. "They're not great in the rain or snow. There are issues when lane markings aren't clear."
Pizza Hut did not respond to the Washington Post's request for comment. The fast casual giant has publicly announced a partnership with Toyota, which is now developing the "e-Palette," a driverless vehicle that looks like a cross between a bullet train and a van. (Amazon and Uber have also signed up to work with the technology.)
Despite the hype this week, Toyota said the concept is "envisioned for use in the 2030s" and declined to comment on how it could help create jobs or any other future economic impacts.
"Our plans going forward include feasibility testing, with the timing and other details still being considered at this time," said Ming-Jou Chen, a safety technology communications manager for Toyota Motor North America.
Still, the government predicts the technology will reshape a "wide range" of jobs held by one in nine American workers, according to a 2017 report by Beede and his fellow economists at the Commerce Department.
About 3.8 million people drive trucks, taxis, ambulances and other vehicles for paychecks, and they're likely to be "displaced" by the coming wave of automation, Beede found - though the researchers did not say how, exactly, they would be displaced.
The Commerce Department did not study the potential for new job creation, either.
Tom Davenport, a business professor at Babson College in Massachusetts and co-author of "Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines," predicted a bleaker future for delivery drivers.
"Human drivers are more expensive and less reliable," he said, "and the fast food delivery workforce is pretty transient: It's hard to get them, and it's hard to keep them."
Companies like Pizza Hut, he said, will be more motivated to increase productivity and save money. They could add more customer service workers, but that's likely to happen only when it benefits the bottom line.
Then again . . . Customers might be miffed if they have to walk outside to get their pizzas.
"Some companies might choose to compete with delivery drivers as a luxury thing," Davenport said, "and offer to bring hot food to your doorstep."