Industry News

Bacon ice cream and nugget overload sees misfiring McDonald's AI withdrawn

AI can’t recognize, what customers were really ordering
Pavel Svetjolkin
Pavel Svetjolkin
Beeble Team member
June 19, 2024
Bacon ice cream and nugget overload sees misfiring McDonald's AI withdrawn

Hundreds of dollars nuggets

McDonald’s is removing artificial intelligence (AI) powered ordering technology from its drive-through restaurants in the US, after customers shared its comical mishaps online, informs BBC Tech.

A trial of the system, which was developed by IBM and uses voice recognition software to process orders, was announced in 2019. It has not proved entirely reliable, however, resulting in viral videos of bizarre misinterpreted orders ranging from bacon-topped ice cream to hundreds of dollars’ worth of chicken nuggets.

Too early for McDonald’s to fire people

McDonald’s told franchisees it would remove the tech from the more than 100 restaurants it has been testing it in by the end of July, as first reported by trade publication Restaurant Business.

“After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT (Automated Order Taking) beyond this year,” the restaurant chain said in a statement.

However, it added it remained confident the tech would still be “part of its restaurants’ future.”

“We 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 statement said.

The technology has been controversial from the outset, though initially concerns centred on its potential to make people’s jobs obsolete.

However, it has become apparent that replacing human restaurant workers may not be as straightforward as people initially feared — and the system’s backers hoped.

Funny movie

The AI order-taker’s mishaps have been documented online. In one video, which has 30,000 views on TikTok, a young woman becomes increasingly exasperated as she attempts to convince the AI that she wants a caramel ice cream, only for it to add multiple stacks of butter to her order.

In another, which has 360,000 views, a person claims that her order got confused with one being made by someone else, resulting in nine orders of tea being added to her bill.

Another popular video includes two people laughing while hundreds of dollars worth of chicken nuggets are added to their order, while the New York Post reported another person had bacon added to their ice cream in error.

The ending of this trial though does not mean an end to concerns about AI reshaping the workplace. IBM said it would continue to work with McDonald’s in the future.

“This technology is proven to have some of the most comprehensive capabilities in the industry, fast and accurate in some of the most demanding conditions,” it said in a statement.

“While McDonald’s is re-evaluating and refining its plans for AOT we look forward to continuing to work with them on a variety of other projects.”