Next time you hit up a McDonald's drive-thru, you might find yourself leaning out your window to bark your order to a robot rather than a pimply teenager. The fast food giant has been testing out a Siri-like voice-recognition system at ten drive-thru locations in Chicago, CEO Chris Kempczinski revealed during a Wednesday investor conference attended by Nation's Restaurant News. The system can handle about 80 percent of the orders that come its way and fills them with about 85 percent accuracy -- probably annoying for the customers who just want to drive off with their burger -- but Kempczinski says a national rollout could happen in as soon as five years. It raises some interesting questions about the role that AI technology will play in various industries and, more importantly, the seemingly endless debate over whether raising the minimum wage to a livable salary will motivate CEOs to replace humans with machines -- or whether they'd do so to cut costs anyway. Part of the challenge in automating the drive-thru, Kempczinski said, is that human workers have been too eager to help out while supervising the technology that might one day replace them, preventing it from accruing the real-world data crucial for further improving the system.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink. As if drive-through ordering wasn't frustrating enough already, now we might have a Siri-like AI to contend with. McDonald's just rolled out a voice recognition system at 10 drive-throughs in Chicago, expanding from the solitary test store they launched a few years ago. But when will it come to your neighborhood Golden Arches? "There is a big leap between going from 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S. with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather -- I mean, on and on and on and on," admitted McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski, reports Nation's Restaurant News.
I know I should be happy. I know I should be loving this idea as a sign of human progress. Why, then, am I a little concerned? Please forgive this apparently tangential meandering, but when you've been used to something being done a certain way, it's often hard to imagine a successful alternative. Yet here we are -- or, more precisely, here are a lot of people in Chicago -- about to face one of the more severe inevitabilities of our modern world: McDonald's is removing humans from taking your order at the drive-thru, in favor of a machine.
McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski attributed a significant amount of the company's success in Q2 to their digital efforts as many restaurants continue to recover from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. During the company's earnings call this week, Kempczinski said McDonald's digital system-wide sales across the top six markets were nearly $8 billion in the first-half of 2021, a 70% increase versus last year. The CEO explained that over the last few years, McDonald's has added more service channels for delivery, curbside pickup kiosks, and table service. But the crown jewel of McDonald's digital offerings is the global mobile app, which Kempczinski said "evolved our customer experience from the physical world to the digital world." "As this evolution continues, our digital offerings will become even more important to serving, interacting with and delighting our customers around the world, and the insights generated from these platforms will help us further improve their experience," Kempczinski said.
Customers using the drive-thru at 10 McDonald's locations in Chicago are not ordering burgers and fries with human employees, but machines using artificial intelligence. The fast-food chain is testing voice recognition software at select locations that has shown to be 85 percent accurate – but 20 percent of orders need human intervention, CNBC reports. CEO Chris Kempczinski made the announcement Wednesday, but also explained that the software may not roll out to all of the fast-food chain's 14,000 locations. 'Now there's a big leap from going to 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S., with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather -- and on and on and on,' Kempczinski said, per CNBC. The technology, according to McDonald's, aims to shorten the wait at the drive-thru by a yet to-be determined amount of time.