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McDonald’s AI Drive-Thru Experiment Called Off…For Now

A McDonald's restaurant sign©Anthony Baggett/123RF

Fast food giant McDonald’s confirmed it has called off its AI drive-thru experiment after some bungled orders hit social media.

Artificial intelligence caused some embarrassing problems at the Golden Arches. McDonald’s had been trying an interesting — and worrisome — AI drive-thru experiment at about 100 of its stores. Essentially, it allowed AI to take customers’ orders at its drive-thru restaurants.

But it should surprise no one that it wasn’t a complete success. Social media videos demonstrated some of the high-tech system’s lowest moments.

Here’s one example from TikTok where two women order a pair of 10-nugget meals, only to have the robot apparently tack on another 19 of them!

The BBC reported that the chain announced it would end the experiment toward the end of July.

Another example of a business letting computers do their thinking for them

I get it. With fast food restaurants — and all other businesses — facing rising labor costs, they’re doing all they can to find ways to cut employees. Theoretically, a computerized option that would eliminate a couple of employees from the payroll might look attractive.

But this particular software, as the saying goes, wasn’t ready for prime time.

I’ve actually taken a major break from McDonald’s. I made that decision, however, not based on any AI ordering software. Frankly, the it’s the human factor at the restaurant that’s so near my home. When I would order, I’d see my order light up on the drive-thru menu board. I’d drive to the first window and pay. Then drive to the second window and receive my food. There’d be a printed receipt. There’d be printed stickers on each item displaying exactly what I’d ordered — and what employees should have made.

Yet it got to the point there were multiple times I’d get the wrong order. The humans in there simply weren’t paying attention to all of the tech.

Add to that the fact that it started to seem like every several visits, the prices would edge up a little bit more.

Even with humans and computers, they couldn’t get things right. And they were charging me more for their mistakes.

McDonald’s apparently plans to continue experimenting with AI. Restaurant Business reported that it “did not dismiss the prospect of drive-thru AI.”

I’m not surprised that AI didn’t give them the solution they wanted

The only instance of artificial intelligence I use in my real job is a transcription service for interviews and recording news conferences. The software listens to a person speaking and immediately transcribes what’s being said.

Overall, it’s surprisingly accurate. But it is far from perfect. Southern accents — accents of any kind, really — easily confuse it. When people trail off a bit, it’s harder for it to get the words right. If I were to just copy and paste into a piece I was writing, it’d be bad.

So I have to pull out the parts I want, read them and make sure they make sense. If what is printed isn’t quite the quote I remember, I can click on the text and it will play the recording of what it transcribed.

The human still has to go behind the AI to fix mistakes.

The human should never depend on AI to get everything right by itself. The technology just isn’t there yet.

And even if it were, the remaining humans would still have to pay attention to the tech’s instructions. If that’s not going to happen, the best tech in the world still won’t be able to make the customer happy.

Oddly enough, next door to the said McDonald’s near my home is a Chick-fil-A. They have humans out front taking orders in the drive-thru on iPads. You pay them then drive around to get your food. Just like McDonald’s, almost every individual item has a printed label with instructions about the order.

Unlike McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A never seems to get the order wrong.

Maybe this little AI drive-thru experiment might give an important lesson: Some things are more important — and more valuable — than tech!

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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