McDonald’s scraps AI pilot after order mix-ups go viral

Fast food giant pulls plug on AI-powered voice-ordering at about 100 outlets after viral videos of order mishaps.

McDonald’s has pulled the plug on its AI partnership with IBM [Rogelio V Solis/AP Photo]

McDonald’s is scrapping a trial of artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted ordering at select drive-through restaurants after videos of order mix-ups went viral online.

The fast food giant said it had decided to retire the AI-powered voice-ordering system, launched in partnership with IBM in 2021, after a “thoughtful review”.

“IBM remains a trusted partner and we will still utilise many of their products across our global system,” McDonald’s said in a statement on Tuesday.

Trade publication Restaurant Business first reported the news on Friday.

While McDonald’s did not give a reason for ending the partnership, the move comes after TikTok users shared videos showing the system picking up orders from the wrong cars, multiplying orders and producing bizarre combinations of food such as ice cream with ketchup and butter.

Still, McDonald’s signalled that the aborted trial would not be the end of its experiments with AI, saying that “our work with IBM has given us the confidence that a voice ordering solution for [drive-through] will be part of our restaurants’ future”.

“We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year,” the Chicago-based company said.

McDonald’s decision to end the pilot comes as restaurant chains have been rushing to embrace AI amid the promise of faster workflows and lower labour costs.

Major US fast food giants including Chipotle, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut have rolled out AI-assisted systems in recent years.

In April, Joe Park, the technology chief at Yum Brands, the owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, told the Wall Street Journal that the group believes an “AI-first mentality works every step of the way”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies