Big Blue scoffs a Happy Meal: McDonald's sells automated order-taking tech to IBM

Would you like AI with that?


Big Blue has taken a bite out of McDonald's, acquiring the burger chain's automated order taking (AOT) tech – and the "McD Tech Labs" that built it, for an undisclosed consideration that may or may not include an upsold serve of fries.

The labs were created after Mickey Dee's 2019 acquisition of AI voice recognition startup Apprente – a deal touted as giving the burger-slinger the special sauce needed to build voice recognition tech into mobile ordering services or McKiosks.

McDonald's told investors its efforts to cook Apprente's tech into something tasty have "shown substantial benefits to customers and restaurant crew experience".

Once Big Blue bites into Big Mac's AI, McDonald's thinks the tech will really start to sizzle.

"Moving forward, IBM's expertise in building customer care solutions with AI and natural language processing will help scale the AOT technology across markets and tackle integrations including additional languages, dialects and menu variations," reads the joint IBM/McDonald's McStatement.

At this point, a disclosure: one of your correspondent's extremely close relatives did a stint as "crew" – Macca's term for human employees. When prodded on the topic of their job's susceptibility to replacement by a Fries-With-That-Bot, said relative opined that McDonald's attracts such a magnificently diverse clientele – among them a great many who appear to regard "crew" as serfs worthy only of disdain and insult – that an AI would struggle to understand many customers' requests.

And my relative wasn't sure any self-respecting AI would want the job, anyway.

McDonald's and IBM are pressing on, regardless. The pair predicted the AOT tech will continue to be baked into the McDonald's tech stack and will also become an ingredient of "AI-driven customer care solutions with IBM Watson."

Big Blue has promised its efforts will deploy the McAI in an ethical fashion.

Staff at the McD Tech Labs will transfer to IBM’s Cloud & Cognitive Software division. The Register hears the canteen there serves lovely salad. ®

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