McDonald’s is partnering with Google to deploy generative AI beginning in 2024, when “thousands” of stores will get hardware and software upgrades. Along with updates to other systems including ordering kiosks and the company’s mobile app, McDonald’s will be able to use generative AI on massive amounts of data to optimize operations. At least one outcome will be — according to the company — “hotter, fresher food” for customers. Large orders of fries delivered hot, thanks to large language models? It’s not completely clear what that means, but we can read between the lines: expect more AI-driven automation at a drive-through near you in the coming years.
McDonald’s isn’t specific about how AI will be used but says it will include hardware and software upgrades running on-location in stores as well as services provided through Google Cloud. The updated system will help managers “quickly spot and enact solutions to reduce business disruptions.”
The McDonald’s statement also skirts the question of AI replacing human workers, mentioning only that the system should “reduce complexity” for store crews and that it will “power exciting new experiences for crew and customers.” Wendy’s — another Google Cloud AI customer — held a similar line when it introduced AI ordering tests earlier this year. As of June, it was running in beta in a single store in Columbus, Ohio, so the jury’s still out.
Still, there’s a whiff of “robots replacing human workers” in the air. The generative AI push also coincides with the deployment of a new “bespoke” operating system to unify the experience across the McDonald’s mobile app and store kiosks. McD’s says the overall changes will result in “more informed tests and automated solutions to enhance restaurant operations.” Fake Drake drive-through cashiers? McRib chatbots? Hard to say. In any case, it’ll be some time before we find out whether anyone is actually lovin’ it.