McDonald’s has replaced human drive-through workers with Siri-like AI technology in a world-first trial in the United States. McDonald’s has been testing a Siri-like voice-recognition system in ten Chicago drive-through locations. It means that human workers are being phased out of drive-through duties, though some are still required to assist the AI with any issues that arise.
For any AI system to function properly, it must first be trained. However, in the case of McDonald’s, it appears that the employees have caught on to this fact, and out of fear of losing their jobs, they begin “helping out” whenever the system encounters a stumbling block.
The system can handle about 80% of the orders that come in and fill them with about 85% accuracy. If you go to a McDonald’s drive-thru, you might find yourself leaning out your window to bark your order to a robot rather than a pimply adolescent.
One major challenge that McDonald’s is facing is that human workers have been too eager to assist the technology that will soon replace them, preventing it from collecting real-world data that is critical for improving the system, according to Kempczinski. According to NRN, Kempczinski stated on the call, “We weren’t getting enough orders to be able to process through the voice recognition technology.”
McDonald’s has been testing out a Siri-like voice-recognition system at ten drive-through locations in Chicago. It means human workers are being replaced from drive-through duties, although some are needed to help the AI with any issues.
CEO Chris Kempczinski revealed during a Wednesday investor conference attended by Nation’s Restaurant News that the fast-food giant has been testing a Siri-like voice recognition system at ten drive-thru locations in Chicago. The system can handle about 80% of orders and fills them with about 85% accuracy — probably annoying for customers who just want to drive away with their burger — but Kempczinski says a national rollout could happen in as little as five years.
It raises some intriguing questions about the role of AI technology in various industries, as well as the seemingly never-ending debate over whether raising the minimum wage to a livable wage will motivate CEOs to replace humans with machines — or whether they would do so anyway to cut costs.
Part of the difficulty in automating the drive-thru, according to Kempczinski, is that human workers have been too eager to assist while supervising the technology that will eventually replace them, preventing it from accumulating the real-world data necessary for further improving the system.
“We weren’t getting enough orders to be able to process through the voice recognition technology,” Kempczinski said on the call, according to NRN, “because whenever there was a question or a hiccup, the crew had a tendency to just jump in.” And it took some time for me to learn to trust the technology.”
“We’ve had to do a little bit of training of ‘just keep your hands off the steering wheel, let the computer do its work,’” he added.
For the time being, Kempczinski appears to believe that automating the actual food preparation process would be a much longer-term goal, so McDonald’s employees may not be forced out of a job just yet. However, as restaurant automation becomes more common, the question of how much responsibility a company has to continue employing people who could technically be replaced by machines becomes more important and dire.
Despite these obstacles, the Siri-like voice recognition system designed to replace drive-through employees has produced impressive results. It is currently being tested in ten Chicago drive-thrus. The new system has produced effective results, managing more than 80% of orders with an accuracy of 85%. McDonald CEO Chris Kempczinski stated that a national rollout replacing human labor could take five years.
While there is no doubt that AI and machine learning have a place in today’s world, the threat to employment is a real concern that should not be overlooked. McDonald’s plans to integrate AI have proven to be a source of concern for those who already work the drive-thrus.
Many employees are concerned that if the shift to AI drive-throughs becomes permanent, they will lose their jobs. According to a McDonald’s New Zealand spokesperson, there are currently no plans to bring the trial to New Zealand, but technological advancements are constantly being made. McDonald’s is constantly experimenting with new technology and new ways to provide convenience.