mcdonald's AI drive-thru is a bad idea - or is it?

Back in the '90s when I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was a thing on the Enterprise called a replicator. And I assume that was inspired by the Foodarackacycle in The Jetsons, as that predates Star Trek.

In Jetsons, the Foodarackacycle was a pushbutton device whereas in Star Trek: TNG you just spoke to it, and it magically created what you wanted. More often than not, a replicator was used to create food and drinks.


McDonald's just ended a test of two years with AI-powered drive-thru ordering.

The first thought I had when reading about AI drive-thru is that if the replicator actually existed, you know fast food giants would be the first to jump on that. In fact, we sort of have that now in a roundabout way. It technically is possible to create food using a 3D printer, a.k.a. food printing, and that technology would work towards McDonald's ultimate goal of having a 100% automated restaurant. If that's not their goal, I'd be genuinely surprised because it would cut operating costs by the millions if not billions. Absolutely no employees present except for maybe one IT guy in the back you never see that makes sure all the robots are working. No cash accepted. All transactions are electronic. Robots take the order, make the order, and it's delivered to you similar to how the fictional replicator worked.

In Star Trek, it was common to see people routinely complain about how inauthentic the food was that came from a replicator. The biggest complaint is that it didn't taste like the real thing. Given that some people believe fast food is fake food anyway, doesn't that sound like a perfect fit for 3D printed fast food? It sure does.

AI drive-thru - if McDonald's can actually make it work reliably - is something I think patrons of that store would accept with no complaints at all. No, I'm not trying to make a joke nor be sarcastic. I really do believe people want AI-everything with fast food. Once the drive-thru system is perfected, it's only a matter of time before all the food is computer-made as well. And once that is perfected, expect the zero-employee McDonald's store...

...well, almost zero. You need the IT guy in the back and a janitor to clean the tables and sweep up the floors periodically.

Published 2024 Jun 18