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KFC's New Facial Recognition Software Proves Human Workers Are Better

But one location in Beijing is using it anyway

KFC in China
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Are automation and robots poised to takeover fast-food service in China? Not quite yet, according to The Guardian whose reporter recently visited Beijing’s first “smart” KFC. The fried chicken restaurant located in the city’s financial district was recently outfitted with a facial recognition system designed to predict customer orders based on age, mood, and sex. It also apparently tells you whether or not you’re “beautiful.”

Chinese tech company Baidu helped develop the software, which not only suggests a limited menu but also collects data on customers’ faces and food preferences. A recent press release suggested the artificial intelligence would recommend that “a male customer in his early 20s” order “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and Coke for lunch,” while a “a female customer in her 50s” would receive the “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast” suggestion.

If those suggestions sound awfully gendered, you wouldn’t be wrong. And as Quartz points out, the whole basiss for the practice of assigning behavior to physical traits is considered pseudoscience.

Of course, The Guardian’s Amy Hawkins notes that the KFC tech is also pretty terrible at reading faces. During her test the program was more than 10 years off in reading her age. Customers, she adds, also appear to be shunning the AI in favor of actual humans who let customers order whatever the hell they want regardless of gender or age. One customer who tested the machine wasn’t impressed with the prospect of chicken soup with rice, saying, “It’s what I ate yesterday, but I didn’t like it. If it knows in future what I want to eat that’s great, but at the moment it’s not very smart.”

This isn’t KFC China’s first foray into the high-tech world of automated ordering. Last year, a new store in Shanghai rolled out voice-activated robots capable of taking orders, though it wasn’t great at understanding different accents and dialects. The Shanghai store also features wireless charging stations for mobile phones that can also stream music and accept payment, which seems considerably more useful.

If the AI is any indication, it sounds like humans are still a cut above automated restaurant technology. Someone tell that to Andy Puzder.

KFC China Is Using Facial Recognition Tech to Serve Customers — But Are They Buying It? [The Guardian]
KFC in Shanghai Is Now Staffed by Robots [E]
All Food Tech Coverage [E]

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