Automation is threatening to eliminate many traditional jobs. But it’s not just call center staff, factory/warehouse workers, and drivers that face being replaced by robots, it’s fast food workers, too. A survey from last year found that millennials preferred interacting with a machine than a person when ordering from restaurants, but a KFC in China is taking things one step further.
The outlet has teamed up with “the Google of China,” Baidu, to develop facial recognition technology that claims it can predict a customer’s order just by analyzing their features.
Brave patrons stand in front of the machine, located at a KFC within Beijing’s financial district, and a camera will determine their sex, age, appearance, and mood. Once its gathered the data, it works out what it believes is the most likely meal the customer will order.
A press release from Baidu, via The Guardian, said “a male customer in his early 20s” would be offered “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and coke”, while “a female customer in her 50s” would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast.”
If the machine offers up something you don’t want, which apparently happens quite often, customers can pick from a list of alternatives on the screen. It’s then a case of paying with a smartphone and picking the order up from the counter.
While guessing the correct meal is obviously pretty hit and miss, the system can supposedly remember a customer’s choices. In theory, this means someone who has used the kiosk on a previous occasion can bring up their last order by simply standing in front of the camera. But it seems this doesn’t always work, either.
There are some pretty obvious problems with the system, especially when it comes to inadvertently insulting people. Guessing ages can be a touchy area, as is rating appearances, and it seems to have some archaic notions of what men and women prefer to eat
Not surprisingly, the machine doesn’t appear too popular with fast food fans. It's reported that pretty much every person entering the KFC ignores it - though that could be partly related to China’s reputation when it comes to storing it citizen’s data. Nevertheless, there are plans for the facial recognition technology to be expanded to KFC’s 5,000 stores around China, and could even make its way to other services. Maybe we’ll see them in Chinese bars, offering customers different drinks based on how drunk they look.