Being recognized at your local fast food joint is a little embarrassing, if we’re being honest, but a KFC store in China wants to use A.I. to make sure that you’re always treated like a regular whenever you stop in for a bite.
The A.I. resides in kiosks that scan people’s faces as they approach. It then guesses at their age, gender, and mood to make recommendations for what they should order. And if someone has stopped in before, the A.I. will remember what they ordered before to make it easier for them to buy it again. That’s right: KFC wants to judge and remember its customers.
It gets weirder. TechCrunch reports that the system, which is currently being used at one store in Beijing, results from a partnership between KFC and the Baidu tech company that is often considered the Chinese equivalent to Google.
Imagine the uproar there would be in the United States if Google teamed up with McDonald’s on a system like this. With no guarantee that information collected by these kiosks will remain private, this A.I. might be unwelcome.
Yet this is the direction in which fast food is going. Having robots staff these restaurants just makes sense — even if the minimum wage never reaches $15 or more, using automatons is more frugal than employing humans to do the same exact job.
That automation will come slowly. One of the more common advancements takes the form of robot cashiers that make it so people don’t have to interact with other humans to buy a $1 sandwich. KFC’s A.I. is the natural evolution of this setup.
Other shifts will take more time. Restaurants in China fired their robot waiters in April because they were incompetent. (Apparently they couldn’t hold soups and other precarious foods steady while they walked.) Autonomous fast food workers, at least for now, are stationary.
Still, it’s clear that fast food plans to use automation to reduce costs. Making a bunch of food available for tiny amounts of money isn’t easy, and these companies have already made the ingredients as cheap as they can, so the next step is replacing the people who are paid to serve the unceremonious glop to customers. Robots just so happen to be able to work for free!
Right now these kiosks are only being tested in one store in China. But if they prove successful, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which people order food made by robots from A.I. that recognizes them and commands another robot to deliver the meal to their table.
Worse things — such as sunscreen that smells like KFC’s signature fried chicken recipe— have happened.Photos via Getty Images / Justin Sullivan